God and Donald Trump

by Christopher Ray

God and Donald Trump, by Stephen E. Strang, Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Book Group, 2017, 256 pp, $15.50 hardcover.

Introduction

This summer, I had the privilege of reading a pre-release copy of God and Donald Trump, by Stephen E. Strang.[1] Mr. Strang is an award-winning journalist, and the founder and president of Charisma Media, a Florida-based company that publishes Charisma Magazine, and Ministry Today, the Spanish magazine Vida Cristiana and Christian Retailing, and includes Charisma House, Siloam, Creation House, Casa Creación, Realms, and FrontLine. As head of the world’s largest charismatic publishing house, Mr. Strang was identified by Time Magazine in 2005 as one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.”[2] In God and Donald Trump, Strang makes “an attempt to look at the dramatic events of the 2016 election . . .  not through the lens of what happened politically, but through the lens of what happened spiritually.” (169) The book is a combination of first-hand accounts of the Trump campaign, Christian political commentary, and charismatic apologetic that presents a compelling, if sometimes problematic, case for seeing the election of Donald Trump as a miraculous act of God.

Before I begin my critique, a few words of disclaimer are in order. Having read hundreds of books, and written formal reviews of many of them, this one has been the most challenging for me. I am an evangelical Christian who has been interested in politics since I was in the fifth grade. I have followed every presidential election since 1988, and have, until recently, been an outspoken, unwavering proponent of GOP conservatism. During the 2016 election cycle, I was an outspoken “Never-Trump” voter who wrote, blogged, and debated vigorously about why I did not believe Donald Trump was an appropriate candidate to receive Christians’ support, despite the threat a Hillary Clinton presidency posed to America. I mention this, because I am going to say some very positive things about this book, while also criticizing areas in which I believe it falls short.  So, while my default stance toward a book like this was initially a hostile one, I have endeavored to approach the material fairly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Indeed, I was surprised at how much I found to praise.

Strengths

God and Donald Trump offers the reader many positive insights. For this review, I’ll categorize them, loosely, as personal (those dealing with Donald Trump personally), practical (having to do with political theory and voting strategy), and spiritual.[3]

Personal Insights

Strang spent a good deal of time directly involved with the Trump campaign, speaking with those closest to the would-be president, and even interviewing him directly (a partial transcript of which is included in Chapter 9). Several times in the book, the author reveals facts and stories about Donald Trump as a person that are helpful. For example, in Chapter 2, the testimonies of respected men and women regarding Trump’s ability to listen to counsel are helpful. To read the words of the likes of Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, is to see a different picture than the one painted by Trump’s bombastic public persona, to be sure. (19) Lance Wallanu’s recollections of a meeting between the candidate and a group of pastors agrees with his former opponents’ observations, revealing details of this private meeting that, again, reveal a different man than the one seen on television. Wallanu describes Trump as “gracious, non-confrontational, and surprisingly open to ‘give and take.’” (66) And a backstory from Trump’s youth, provided in Chapter 8, gives insight into the character of a budding real estate mogul that stands in stark contrast to the playboy billionaire that has been seen on American television screens and magazine covers for the last four decades. (91-101)

Calling Donald Trump a “baby Christian,” (172) Strang makes the case that one does not have to be a born-again Christian in order to be a good President. (xvi, 2) The born-again strategy, as he correctly observes, has been tried in the past, and it has not yielded the results Christian voices hoped for. (173) These observations are a welcome change from the oft-heard voices that seem to require the likes of Billy Graham in the White House. At the same time, they refrain from painting Trump in a light that is holier than the facts permit.

Practical Considerations

Perhaps the strongest arguments made in the book are the practical ones. At first, I thought these arguments had all been made before, as a great deal of ink has been spilt to encourage supporting Trump because he is so much better than Clinton. While these arguments are made (sometimes ad nauseum), Strang does paint a fuller-than-typical picture to buttress his position. At several places in the book, very cogent arguments are given for an “anyone but Clinton” attitude, though they are not finally convincing, as will be observed below. (36, 151-52, 178-78) Ultimately, it is put forth, Clinton policies would be so disastrous for the Christian community, a vote for Trump solely to keep Clinton out of the White House is presented as a virtuous thing. “If you aren’t comfortable voting for a person,” writes the author, “vote for principles.” (102)

Perhaps the strongest argument in the book is that the Bible and history show that God can and does raise up secular leaders to accomplish His purposes. (174) General George Patton is used as a fitting example of a rugged, often uncouth, man who was called to a great task, and executed it heroically. (151-52) This argument is akin to a common comparison of Trump to the Bible’s King Cyrus, but it is much stronger in that Cyrus was the head of a nation holding God’s people captive, rather than a leader raised up from among their ranks. Unfortunately, Strang uses the Cyrus argument as well, but the Patton example is one of the high points of the book. (73)

Spiritual Considerations

God and Donald Trump is, first and foremost, the story of how its author saw God at work in the 2016 election. As such, spiritual considerations permeate every page. The book has several challenges to believers to vote responsibly and in ways that they believe will further God’s kingdom in this nation and the world. Calls for Christian unity abound, even from Trump himself. (69) One of the strongest of these is a quote from radio host and blogger Todd Starns, in which he urges Christians to “get on board and row – hard” during a “historic moment in the life of our country.” (176) The book is replete with challenges such as this, and one can hardly help but be inspired by them. There are many stories of work behind the scenes that seem to display the grace and mercy of God at work in the election. Strang focuses well on prayer movements that undergirded Trump’s campaign from its outset, and on the deep desire by many for a moral and spiritual awakening in America. (15-21, 149) Strang makes it clear that Charismatics rallied early around Donald Trump not just because of what he said, but because they believed God had His hand on him. (61-63) This is such a focal point of the book that one might say, as Ronald Reagan was the president Fundamentalists elected, Donald Trump was the president Charismatics anointed. (63-66)

Many stories of people who prophesied about Donald Trump’s election comprise what seems to be Strang’s central spiritual argument. This is an interesting facet of the book, in that, for those outside charismatic circles, stories of prophecy may seem fantastic, suspect, or overly speculative. As a reader who is neither a charismatic nor a cessationist (one who believes that certain spiritual gifts ceased to be operative in the church after the completion of the New Testament), I found the stories fascinating. At one point in the book, several of these prophesies are discussed, ranging from decade old prophesies by Ken Clement, to more recent ones from Cindy Jacobs, Bill Hamon, Chuck Pierce, Mark Taylor, and Frank Amedia. (69-72) The words these people believe they received from the Lord seem chillingly accurate, and add substantially to the book.

Criticisms

For all the positive elements of God and Donald Trump, there are several things that prevent it from reaching its persuasive potential. As with the book’s strengths, I’ll loosely categorize my observations into two categories of weakness: political demonization and special pleading.

Political Demonization

One of the most important aspects of argumentation is to understand your opponent. If you are not able to articulate your opponent’s view in a way that they would agree with, it is likely that you do not understand them yet, and if you are seeking to win them over to your way of thinking, insulting and mischaracterizing them are counter-productive. It seems that Christians who did not vote for Donald Trump would be the most logical audience for Mr. Strang’s argument, but some of the things he writes serve to alienate his would-be converts.

For those who are the author’s (and Mr. Trump’s) closest potential allies – those with Christian conservative leanings, the author provides no olive branch, no attempt at understanding. Instead, he dismisses these “Never-Trumpers” as “self-righteous conservatives and libertarians.” (4) He approvingly quotes Newt Gingrich as he insults them, calling them “little whiny sniveling negative cowards . . . beneath our paying attention to them.” (28) He paints them as unwitting dupes, putting on “the other team’s jersey on and then [running] a lap around the stadium.” (38) The closest the book comes to a fair assessment of the “Never-Trump” crowd is when the author writes, “There was a small percentage of Never-Trumpers and conscientious believers who could never reconcile their beliefs with the candidate’s language and behavior . . .” (25) It’s a shame the rest of the author’s comments on the movement didn’t display this same irenic tone. As one who was in this camp for most of the election cycle, this was the aspect of the book that weakened its impact on me the most.

The “Never-Trump” crowd isn’t the only group to be on the receiving end of Strang’s disdain. As is typical in much political dialog, Strang commits the age-old error of demonizing one’s political opponents. In his view, the Right equals Republican, Christian, good, and patriotic, while the Left equals Democrat, non-Christian, secular, and evil. (17-18) Globalism, which so many in the Progressive camp have a penchant for, is decried as “demonic at its core.” (53) The unfortunate thing here is that the tone and technique Strang uses is one of vicious rhetoric, not one of thoughtful persuasion. Additionally, it promotes a false duality so common in American politics, where those not in the Republican camp are assumed to be Democrats, and vice-versa, as if there were no other options, and no diversity of opinion apart from the red and blue. While this is not uncommon in the realm of political opinion, in this author’s opinion, it is less than effective, and unbecoming of a Christian author, as it is devoid of God’s love, especially toward sincere Christian brothers and sisters who hold differing political convictions.

Special Pleading

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of God and Donald Trump is its failure to engage with the negative aspects of Trump’s character. A book like this, which makes several strong arguments for God’s hand in the 2016 election, could have done great good by engaging moral failings and crass behavior head-on. However, it fails to do so. Several opportunities for this are present in the book. For example, in Chapter 4, Strang comes to the issue of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump boasting about using his power and position as an opportunity to grab women’s genitals. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the author to denounce the reprehensible behavior while maintaining his assertion that Trump was still the right choice for President. Instead, the candidate’s comments are described as “Trump discuss[ing] women sexually and even describe[ing] groping for women’s private parts.” (35) There is no recognition that Trump was either 1) accurately describing what most people would call sexual assault (or at least sexual aggression), or 2) falsely boasting of sexual assault to impress Billy Bush. Those who did speak out against this are not respected as the influential Christians they are, not thoughtfully engaged as co-laborers in Christ, but rather are mentioned and then dismissed by quoting journalist Stephen Moore. (38) Beth Moore’s denunciations are dismissed with the statement that “As a victim of sexual abuse herself, she said she could not get past Trump’s vulgar language in the ten-year-old cell phone video.” (38) Then, he moves right into  the typical Trump-supporter strategy of criticizing Bill Clinton’s inexcusable behavior while in office. This double standard, excusing one man’s sexual aggression while condemning another’s, is special-pleading at its worst.

More special pleading is apparent throughout the book. Strang excuses Donald Trump’s crude tactics as an effective means of getting around the mainstream media. (103) And, toward the end of the book, Trump’s language and behavior are dismissed as “disagreeable,” and immediately contrasted with his passion to “make America great again.” (152) This is unfortunate because, had the book addressed these issues head-on, it would have provided a much-needed counter-balance to the “defend Trump at all costs” mentality so common among his supporters.

Conclusion

Stephen E. Strang’s God and Donald Trump presents a compelling case for the hand of God in the 2016 election. With keen insights into the person on Donald Trump, compelling practical considerations advocating for his election, and a consistent spiritual undercurrent that caries it along, it is not only an enjoying read, but it argues its premise well. Unfortunately, it also engages in a demonization of its would-be detractors that is not in good keeping with its Christian message, and its failure to address glaring issues in a straightforward, honest manner is too much like the typical rhetoric of political journalism for it to reach its potential as a stand-out political/spiritual work.

[1] Stephen E. Strang, God and Donald Trump (Lake Mary, FL: Frontline/Charisma House Book Group, 2017).

[2] “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America – TIME,” http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/0,28757,1993235,00.html, (accessed August 27, 2017).

[3] These are not distinctions made by the author, and many elements indeed span multiple categories.

 

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