MAGA's Disturbing Transformation Into a Church, Trump Into Its Savior | Opinion

For better and worse, religion has always been a part of American politics. In the election of 1800, John Adams' camp attacked Thomas Jefferson as an atheist. Nearly 200 years later, the Reverend Pat Robertson campaigned for the Republican nomination for president, winning primaries in California, Washington State, and Alaska. On the Democratic side, Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church ran and won Georgia's Senate Seat in 2020.

The First Amendment prevents establishment of a state religion—some, including me, believe it means a wall of separation between church and state. But that doesn't set up a wall of separation between religion and campaigning. The two have co-mingled since our founding.

What we have not seen, until recently, is politics and politicians becoming a religion.

Former General Michael Flynn, for example, has barnstormed the country with the ReAwaken America tour, in which political gripes and conspiracy theories are met with the outstretched hands that are a familiar sight in church worship. The tour itself was founded by a failed Tulsa, Oklahoma, mayoral candidate, Clay Clark, who says he was "spiritually dumb" before 2020, and then God told him to do events to fight against COVID mask mandates.

Trump Rally in Ohio
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Since that time, the tour has embraced all the extremist-right conspiracy theories, from idiotic 2020 election denialism to whacked out theories about demonic control of America. The common thread throughout all of this is that the political causes themselves have become the religion that God participates in, and the events are as much a church as anything else.

But then, who is the savior? One guess.

At Trump rallies, including one in Ohio last weekend, congregants were given a booklet claiming that Donald Trump is "the son of man—the Christ." According to the booklet's summary on Amazon, "This book will explain in depth how "Donald John Trump's" full name literally means: 'The Ruler of the World, graced by Yahweh (the LORD) and a descendant of a Drummer.' Upon reading this book, the reader will be captivated when they realize how President Donald John Trump fulfilled most of the prophecies as the Son of Man."

Perhaps seeing the success of Flynn's tour, perhaps knowing that billboards were using his likeness as a proxy for Jesus Christ, or perhaps just realizing his followers were ready, Trump tried on the role of idol to be worshiped, bizarrely speaking over dramatic music, as his parishioner-supporters extended their arms and swayed their fingers in the air, worshiping him and the QAnon conspiracy at the same time (QAnon's motto is "Where we go one, we go all").

Where does this leave us? At best, we are now faced with a Republican Party and a leader who are fully realizing "Christian Nationalism," where Christianity is inseparable with the idea of being patriotic. Fringe Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for one, is embracing the label. At worst, Christianity and politics aren't just closely linked and sometimes confused, but are being melded into a new quasi-religion unto itself with one man, Trump, as the new savior. His word (with a capital "H") becomes a truth as immutable and incontrovertible as words chiseled into stone tablets coming down from a mountain. To argue against it or question it, then, becomes heresy.

As disturbing as this development is, there seems to be no push-back against it from those who are usually regarded as reasonable Republicans. From senators Mitt Romney (Utah) to Susan Collins (Maine), there's been no rejection of the deification of Donald Trump, or the Christian Nationalist movement. While some media outlets have dutifully covered the development, there has been no effort to hold Republican leaders' feet to the fire, and get them to reject this perversion of religion. This is being done under the Republican brand, headlined by the de facto leader of the party. Letting Republicans off the hook for this insanity is not an option. Americans deserve to know where every Republican leader stands—especially those who try to portray themselves as moderate voices.

What makes America great is that it is a multi-religious society. Throughout its history, the best of religion has played a key role in advancing liberty and justice for all. And religion has always played a role in our politics, as an outside influencer. As long as there is a United States of America, that will be true. But as MAGA Republicans try to merge the two into one, we ought to remember the words of James Madison that "religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."


Eric Schmeltzer is a Los Angeles-based political consultant who served as press secretary to Rep. Jerry Nadler and former-Gov. Howard Dean.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.