President Trump loves evangelicals. White evangelicals voted for him by more than a 4-1 margin in 2016, and their support has only grown since he assumed office. On Monday, Trump brought over 100 of these Christian leaders to the White House to listen to a sermon about the doom that awaits should the Democrats win control of Congress this November. The left will “overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently,” said the president, whose remarks were revealed Tuesday after audio of the closed-door meeting was leaked.
“They will end everything immediately,” Trump added. “When you look at antifa and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people.” The president did not elaborate on why he believes a favorable result for Democrats this fall would incite violence from antifa, or how the left could potentially use violence to reverse what the Trump administration has accomplished for the evangelical community. White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley declined to explain what the president meant by the comments, according to the New York Times.
“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable,” Trump continued. “Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you and for me and for my family, but I’ve done them.” He added that November is “very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment.”
No group laps up Trump’s fire-and-brimstone rhetoric like evangelicals, and no evangelical has meant more to the president than Jerry Falwell, Jr. The Liberty University president and former “spiritual adviser” to Trump was in attendance at the White House Monday night. In recent weeks, he’s taken an aggressive approach to those he perceives to be Trump’s enemies, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Falwell, Jr. denounced earlier on Monday, explaining to Politico that he “really is not on the president’s team.”
Falwell, Jr. is only the latest Trump ally to publicly question whether Sessions should retain his position as attorney general. His opinion means a lot to the president, as he was one of Trump’s earliest supporters. In January 2016, he invited Trump to speak at Liberty University, an appearance that built the foundation for the evangelical support Trump — then still a long shot.
“We’re going to protect Christianity,” Trump said to packed auditorium. “I can say that. I don’t have to be politically correct.” He then consulted a piece of paper to recite a Bible verse. “Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame,” Trump said. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty. Here, there is Liberty College. Liberty University. It’s so true. Is that the one you like? I think that’s the one you like. I loved it. It’s so representative of what has taken place.”
Like he did on Monday night, Trump warned then of a grim future for Christianity. “Look at Syria. If you’re Christian, they’re chopping off heads. You look at the different places. Christianity is under siege,” Trump said, adding that “bad things are happening, very bad things are happening.”
In an effort to demonstrate everything he’s done for Christianity since taking office, Trump on Monday night lied about getting “rid of” the Johnson Amendment, a law enacted in 1954 that prohibits churches and charities from involving themselves in political elections, lest they lose their tax-exempt status. In reality, the law is very much still intact. Trump did sign a nominal executive order in 2017 that directed the IRS to take it easy on churches and charities espousing political opinions, but the IRS never pursued these types of violators ardently in the first place. “That was a disaster for you,” Trump said Monday of the law.
Trump made a similar faith-related lie when speaking to the Ohio GOP last week, as Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star points out.
Instead, Trump said this: "We believe in the dignity of work, the power of freedom, and we believe in the truth of our national motto, which a lot of people don't like using. Did you see some court ruled against it the other day? ‘In God We Trust.’”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 28, 2018
In reality, there was no such ruling against the phrase. “The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of ‘In God We Trust’ in late May,” Ryan Colby, a spokesman for “religious liberty for all” group Becket, told Dale. “I believe that is the latest ruling.”
Right around the time he spoke at Liberty University in 2016, Trump met with some evangelical leaders at Trump Tower. On Monday night, he explained that it was there that he was informed about the Johnson Amendment issue. The meeting seems to have resonated with the president. He noted how the men of faith with whom he met “really liked” him, before recalling a touching scene he observed out of the Trump Tower window. “We were in the 68th floor of Trump Tower and we looked down on the sidewalks and there were thousands and thousands of people,” the president remembered. “They looked like ants, little people going all over — boom, boom, boom — so little, because when you’re 68 floors, they look really small. But there were a lot of them.”
Really makes you think about the powers that be.