Trump isn’t Cyrus. He’s Herod.

Leaders from Hillsong Church and Bethel Music visit Trump on December 7, 2019

This week, an assortment of well-known evangelical musicians and pastors visited Trump at the White House. Photos and videos of Brian Houston, Kari Jobe, Sean Feucht, and others worshiping at the White House and posing for Oval Office photo-ops sent shockwaves through Christian Twitter. While Trump’s cultivation of evangelical support is nothing new, this meeting was notable for featuring a younger, hipper crew of evangelical leaders from industry powerhouses like Hillsong Church and Bethel Music. Evangelicals across America recognize these names from their Sunday service playlists, but aren’t used to seeing them on the White House guest list.

That these leaders said “yes” to Trump’s invitation serves as a sharp reminder that American evangelicals by and large continue to support President Trump. But it also re-highlights just how paradoxical that alignment feels to many. Why is it, again, that evangelicals fell for a potty-mouthed philandering Reality-TV star with a disregard for Christian virtues (like patience or kindness)?

The answer is not about piety. It’s about power.

Recent reporting by Alex Morris in Rolling Stone sheds light on how Trump won over key evangelical leaders in 2016 by focusing their attention on what he could do for them. He didn’t position himself as a faithful servant, but as a strongman who could push their agenda through the highest levels of U.S. government. He offered them power in exchange for support, and they took the deal.

This idea of Trump as a flawed-yet-useful strongman has been expressed by some evangelical leaders, themselves. In particular, they have interpreted Trump as a modern-day King Cyrus. In the Bible, Cyrus is named as the Persian King who allowed the Judaean exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. While the specific details are vague, archaeological evidence does suggest that Cyrus allowed repatriation of exiles and restoration of their cultic sites. In the biblical book of Isaiah, this act is imbued with messianic language — referring to Cyrus as the Lord’s “anointed” king. The point is that God was using Cyrus to accomplish a divine purpose, despite Cyrus’ own loyalty to other deities.

So: if God can use Cyrus, then God can use Trump, too. And if Cyrus wasn’t perfect, then Trump doesn’t have to be either. Right?

Well, not so fast. Putting aside the unorthodox methodology (the Bible’s depiction of a specific character is not always meant to be generalized or emulated), there’s actually a different biblical king that more closely describes Donald Trump: Herod.

In the gospel of Matthew, Herod is recorded as the king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. According to the narrative (familiar at Christmas time), a celestial phenomenon compels “Magi from the east” to travel to Jerusalem in search of a newborn king. Herod feigns approval and tells the Magi he wants to go worship the child as well. But instead of worshiping, Herod sends his troops to kill every baby boy in the village of Bethlehem.

Meetings between evangelical leaders and Trump are more reminiscent of the Magi’s visit to Herod’s palace than they are of Cyrus’ Persian court.

Like Herod feeling threatened by a baby, Trump interprets everything through the lens of self-preservation. Like Herod lying to the Magi, Trump only solicits evangelical voters as a tool for his own empowerment. And like Herod slaying the children, Trump has unleashed a furry of works diametrically opposed to God’s true purposes.

For a glaring example of working against God’s purposes, consider the southern border. When vulnerable families journeyed to our country in search of help, Trump separated thousands of children from their parents and locked them in cages. Because of incompetent planning — mixed with pure disregard for human rights — some of these children will never be united with their families. Six of these children have died while under the Border Patrol’s negligent care. As the gospel of Matthew quotes from the prophet Jeremiah, so can be said of our border:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,

Weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children;

And she refused to be comforted,

Because they were no more.”

Many of Trump’s other works seem similarly antithetical to the purposes of a loving God. Trump’s administration is trying to take away basic food assistance from 700,000 hungry people. Trump’s lawyers are trying to take away healthcare from millions of sick people. Trump’s arms dealers are helping Saudi Arabia continue to bomb thousands of women and children in Yemen. These are not “anointed” works. They are contrary to Christian mandates of caring for the needy and protecting the weak, and they aren’t anything Christians should be celebrating.

Some evangelicals are apparently fine with ignoring these travesties in order to fulfill their own preferred agenda of beneficence. In a video posted on the White House twitter account, Bethel musician Kari Jobe sings the praises of Trump’s efforts at helping those who are marginalized and “trafficked.” If Kari Jobe and others really cared about human trafficking, they would speak out against Trump’s trafficking of migrant children at the border. But they don’t. It’s easy to ignore others’ inconvenient suffering when you’re blinded by the light of power.

Later in the gospel of Matthew, the adult Jesus is quoted as saying “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” When you make a deal with the devil, there’s only one winner.

Trump has shown himself to be Herod — not Cyrus — and evangelicals should stop enabling his wickedness with their silence and support. If Hillsong and Bethel want to worship God, they shouldn’t play church at the White House. They should seek the babe lying in a cage somewhere along our southern border — and set him free.

Millennial & bi in Portland, Maine. Thinking about politics & believing in justice. @CharlesSkold

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