As his poll numbers plummet, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is doing everything he can to boost enthusiasm for his candidacy among Religious Right leaders and the conservative white evangelical voters who make up an important part of the GOP’s political base.
Trump promised the hundreds of conservative evangelical leaders he met with in June that he would make the Christian Right more politically powerful by doing away with legal restrictions on overt politicking by churches. This week Trump will reportedly be pushing that plan as he heads down the well-trod path to the far corners of Christian nationalism.
Trump’s outreach has already gone well beyond Bible-waving and not-very-convincing scripture-quoting. He let Religious Right leaders write an anti-LGBT party platform and he’s promised them the Supreme Court of their dreams. He picked as his running mate Mike Pence, an anti-abortion extremist who was the Religious Right’s favored 2012 presidential candidate before he decided to run for governor instead. Trump has even suggested that somehow he’d make people say “Merry Christmas.”
Now, according to news reports, Trump will be joining former foe Marco Rubio and a bevy of anti-gay speakers at a Rediscovering God in America event in Florida this week sponsored by David Lane’s American Renewal Project. Lane has been organizing these political matchmaking sessions for two decades, bringing Republican politicians together with evangelical pastors who Lane hopes will transform their churches into conservative voter turnout machines. Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump’s biggest evangelical booster, reportedly “played a key role in initiating” the appearance in Orlando.
What is the vision of America that David Lane is pursuing, with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio’s help?
Lane believes that the United States has a covenant with God to advance the Christian faith. He denounces pluralism, secular government and court rulings upholding the separation of church and state. He wants the Bible to be used as the primary textbook in public schools. He is wildly anti-gay and has demanded the impeachment of judges who rule in favor of marriage equality.
Lane could be drawn to Trump’s for-him-or-against him approach to politics, which fits nicely with Lane’s no-compromise worldview. He wrote last year that “there can be no reconciliation of opposites, particularly the spiritual and the secular. Therefore we need to establish if America is a pagan or Christian nation and get on with it – the sooner the better.”
Trump’s complaint that politicians are “selling Christianity down the tubes” speaks to Lane’s belief that Christians are facing persecution in the United States. On a 2014 trip to Europe he organized for a group of pastors from swing states and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, Lane drew a comparison between 1930s Nazi Germany and modern-day America.
Lane says America’s descent into secularism and other evils is not only the fault of judges and politicians, but also pastors who don’t preach aggressively enough. He has complained, for example, that there was “not a peep from the Christian church” in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, when he says the church “should have initiated riots, revolution, and repentance.”
As a political operative devoted to getting conservative pastors more engaged in politics, Lane must be thrilled by Trump’s pledge to help churches become more powerful by allowing them to use their tax-exempt contributions as political weapons. Perhaps Lane sees Donald Trump as the answer to this question he once posed: “Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”
Polls suggest that Trump is already doing well among white evangelical voters. But Lane told Bloomberg News that Trump cannot count on endorsements from Christian leaders, and that he needs the kind of direct outreach to pastors that he will be doing in Orlando to “produce a ground game.” Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, continuing his pattern of acting as Lane’s virtual press agent, gushed that Trump’s plan to show up for Orlando’s Pastors and Pews event shows that he is “well on his way to striking evangelical gold.”