Donald Trump said a lot of strange things while running for president, but among the most curious was this claim: “The Christians are being treated horribly because we have nobody to represent the Christians. Believe me, if I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians they’ve had in a long time.”
Trump made this statement during an interview with David Brody of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network in May of 2015. Now that he has been elected, it’s time to take a closer look at it.
Let’s dispense with the claim that Christians are treated horribly in America because it’s absurd on its face. Christians – and I think it’s safe to assume here that Trump was referring to conservative Christians – have it pretty good in the United States, a country that maximizes religious freedom.
Houses of worship are tax-exempt and have a right to go about their business with minimal government interference. People like Brody’s boss own enormous TV ministries that have a global reach. Their ability to spread their message is limited only by their imaginations.
Yes, religious believers of all stripes are expected to abide by certain secular laws designed to protect the rights of others – all Americans are – but by and large, the status of religious freedom in the United States is secure. More often than not, government bends over backward to accommodate religious belief. (Sometimes they bend too far, in AU’s view.)
Christians and Christian groups often take part in public protests.
So what about Trump’s assertion that Christians have no one to represent them, and thus they need a former reality TV host to do it for them?
Call me skeptical. Christian churches, be they liberal, moderate or conservative, have a robust public voice. They speak out often on issues of the day. Many denominations maintain offices in Washington, D.C., so they can work with lawmakers. Many have a presence in state capitals as well.
Conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are represented by a number of Religious Right public policy and legal groups, several of which have big budgets. Consider just two of these groups, Family Research Council (FRC) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADC). Charity Navigator lists FRC’s revenue at $15 million, and ADF’s at $48 million. You can do a lot of representing with that kind of money.
Moderate and liberal Christians are represented, too. Americans United, for example, is a multi-faith, multi-philosophy organization, and when we advocate for separation of church and state and the right of conscience, we’re advocating for the millions of Christians who support those principles. We’re not the only group doing it. Many of our allies are Christian organizations.
In short, it appears that Christians of all denominations and at all points on the theological spectrum already have a voice. Is it possible, Mr. President-elect, that you simply haven’t been listening?