What would Jesus say about Americans today?

Evangelicals in the USATrump, the "anointed of God"

"I am the chosen one," said President Trump at a press conference in connection with his China policy - he was only joking, he later said. But for many of his supporters, this idea does not seem so absurd: In a recent survey by political scientist Paul Djupe from Denison University in Ohio, who specializes in the interplay of religion and politics, a surprising number of churchgoers agree with the statement that Trump is "the one anointed by God". The more frequently the subjects attend church, the greater their inclination to support the statement.

"And they weren't just conservative Protestants, who we normally know as Donald Trump's supporters. It went across all denominations among those who go to church frequently. Almost 50 percent of all weekly churchgoers believe that Trump was elected president in 2016 . "

The influence of religious elites

That is a dramatic increase compared to the previous year when he conducted a similar study, says Djupe. And he also has a thesis why the numbers are currently so high:

"It's because many religious elites use this rhetoric of the 'anointed of God'. Trump advisors, conservative radio hosts, Republican politicians. That's one reason they all repeat the argument over and over. The other reason is that the same elites also work with some kind of threat: They say that if the Democrats win the November election, they want to deprive conservative Christians of their religious freedoms. "

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Donald Trump, on the other hand, will protect these freedoms. The fact that he is therefore seen as "chosen" is a relatively new phenomenon, says researcher Djupe. So far, religious elites have prayed regularly for presidents - but they have not called any "anointed" before Trump.

Trump as the Persian king Cyrus

The concept of anointing goes back to the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. There, the anointing combines a religious ritual with secular, political power, explains the Jesuit James Bretzke, who teaches Catholic theology at John Carroll University in Ohio.

“The idea of ​​the anointing is that the anointed one is chosen by God. When the Israelites decided in the Old Testament that their leader should henceforth be a king - not a judge or charismatic leader - the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king , following this tradition, for example the Western European hereditary queens and kings also anointed at their coronation. "

In the USA there is no divine right - but in certain evangelical traditions the idea that a political leader exercises his power in God's name, explains Bretzke.

"The evangelicals argue that political leaders can be an instrument of God even if they are not personally virtuous. This tradition can be traced back to the Babylonian captivity: when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in exile, this happened thanks to the Persian king Cyrus. He was not a Jew himself, but he was considered an instrument of God, he was called 'the anointed of God'. "

A political maneuver

Republican politicians and prominent evangelicals like to compare Donald Trump with that same King Cyrus. The fact that he is not a perfectly virtuous person supports the thesis that, like Cyrus, as an instrument of God, he is doing good for America.

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During a visit to the White House in 2018, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even compared Trump with Cyrus - after Trump moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an act of great political and religious symbolic power. The theologian James Bretzke considers the evangelical rhetoric of the anointed and of modern Cyrus less a religious conviction - but above all a political strategy:

"The evangelicals want Trump to be politically successful. For example, in the 1992 election, they argued that Bush Senior was more virtuous than Bill Clinton, that is why the evangelicals had to support him. And that is an argument that is difficult in the case of Trump So they had to find another reason to legitimize the support for him. And so they just claim that he is somehow God's chosen. "

And if the numbers are to be believed, then this strategy seems to be catching on quite well with religious voters.