Joel Cohen

The danger in Evangelical thinking

I think God wanted Donald Trump to become president. And that’s why he’s there!

Lord knows, those are not my words, and certainly not my thoughts. Indeed, they should be in quotes – for they were the precise words spoken last week by President Trump’s principal spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In those words, she likely articulated the thinking of many (albeit not all) evangelicals. Why else would they have put to the side – even ignored – the president’s many personal acts and actions that are so completely antithetical to the belief system of most Evangelical Christians? And her remarks would have been especially poignant for them given the president’s action last year in carrying out his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem – an action so identifiable with evangelical doctrine.  The End Times, a prerequisite to the Second Coming, holds that Jews will gather in Israel and those who don’t currently believe in Jesus will become believers (or they will die). Indeed, that principle is seemingly the reason why evangelicals are so aligned with Jews over the vital importance of Israel as a Jewish State.

Some years ago when I was writing a book “Moses & Jesus: A Conversation”, a fictional dialogue between Moses and Jesus in heaven the day after the crucifixion, I attended a debate between a prominent rabbi and an evangelical pastor – I needed to get up to speed on evangelical doctrine. The Hasidic rabbi, known to be provocative, was clearly knowledgeable about the Christian Bible, and was visibly angered by the pastor’s fervent prediction – if that is a sufficient phrase – that Jews would certainly one day “see the light” and become true believers in Jesus.

Years later I met the rabbi, while debating him on another subject, and asked privately why he had had that reaction to his debate partner (“We don’t believe that. Who cares what he believes?”). The rabbi explained that he was concerned by the potential “trickle down,” the phrase he used: how might many evangelical followers of Jesus see their obligation as believers if Jews, or others who also “reject” Jesus as the Messiah, don’t come around. He didn’t invoke any Inquisitional-like mentality or anything close to that, but something like that was what was driving him. In other words, if some evangelists were to see themselves obligated to proselytize the non-believer as an element of their credo, how far might that possibly go?

Now, I have no problem with Huckabee Sanders or, for that matter, anyone believing in their heart of hearts that Donald Trump was God’s choice to be president. Or that Bibi Netanyahu is God’s choice to be Prime Minister of Israel, or that Tom Brady was God’s choice to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots. People are entitled to believe what they want to believe  – the First Amendment happily accords them that entitlement. The only concern is when belief becomes doctrine and doctrine moves thinking into mandatory acceptance of the belief so that those who reject it become outcasts – i.e., those (Christians, Jews or anyone) who reject God’s “choice” of Donald Trump as America’s president.

There’s probably no reason for us to be paranoid that if Jews, particularly those with great enthusiasm for Israel, reject Trump the next time around there will be hell to pay coming from segments of the evangelical right. However, we should be ever mindful, even if we are truly grateful for their support particularly when Israel’s security is so vitally important, that evangelicals are hardly devoted to the State of Israel for the same reasons that we are. Their interest is fundamentally based on how they perceive “God’s Plan.”  For them, as far as one can tell, we will all be followers of Jesus when the time/his time comes.

I sometimes wonder if the president – that is, God’s Choice as president – understands that reality. And, if so, what impact does that have on him?

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Petrillo, Klein & Boxer in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Petrillo, Klein & Boxer firm or its lawyers.
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