Conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson wants you to know that he’s upset that “prosperity gospel” preacher Paula White is one of several religious figures who have been invited to say prayers at the upcoming inauguration festivities for Donald Trump.
Most people concerned about White’s appearance are criticizing her sleazy claims that people who give her money will magically receive divine blessings. That’s apparently not what really bothers Erickson, however. Instead, he’s concerned that she is a “trinity denying heretic” who allegedly doesn’t share the view of the divinity of Jesus that Erickson does.
Erickson found an old video somewhere in the bowels of the internet in which White appears to say that all humans are “begotten” of God, just like Jesus Christ. Based on that, Erickson went into high-dudgeon mode over the possibility that Donald Trump, a man literally no one considers to be a devout Christian, might give incorrect spiritual guidance to the American people:
“The President of the United States putting a heretic on stage who claims to believe in Jesus, but does not really believe in Jesus, risks leading others astray,” Erickson wrote on his personal blog. “Trump letting this heretic pray in Jesus’s name should offend every Bible believing Christian.”
Lots of people are worried that Trump’s inexperience and bombastic behavior might lead to diplomatic disasters. Erickson is worried that Trump will literally send Americans to hell:
I’d rather a Hindu pray on Inauguration Day and not risk the souls of men, than one whose heresy lures in souls with promises of comfort only to damn them in eternity. At least no one would mistake a Hindu, a Buddhist, or an atheist with being a representative of Christ’s kingdom.
Erickson’s view that “heretic” Christians should be banned from public life is well within a longstanding and infamous tradition within the Religious Right.
Contrary to their many public pronouncements in favor of “religious liberty,” many Christian nationalists have shown that they are less interested in freedom and more interested in supremacy.
In recent years, several incidents have made this attitude crystal clear. Many of them involve followers of the Hindu tradition, the one which Erickson begrudgingly says would be OK with him.
One such episode took place in 2000, when the U.S. House of Representatives invited a Hindu priest named Venkatachalapathi Samuldralato to deliver an opening prayer before its Sept. 14 session.
Such prayers, led by a wide variety of priests, ministers, rabbis, imams and other religious figures, are a daily routine in both houses of Congress. They are not mandatory and members rarely attend. Most Americans pay no attention to the invocations and they have never been a significant issue to the general public.
To some Christian nationalists, however, the idea of inviting a Hindu to pray before the Congress was a tremendous outrage.
The Family Research Council, which claims to support expressions of faith in the public square, condemned the prayer on its website:
Our founders expected that Christianity — and no other religion — would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate people's consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference. Many people today confuse traditional Western religious tolerance with religious pluralism. […]
As for our Hindu priest friend, the United States is a nation that has historically honored the One True God. Woe be to us on that day when we relegate Him to being merely one among countless other deities in the pantheon of theologies.
After the statement was picked up by the Associated Press, FRC mostly retracted it. The sentiment was certainly still resonant among certain people, however. About a month after the prayer, Timothy Lamer, managing editor of the Protestant magazine World, denounced the Hindu prayer as “infidelity in the public square” and claimed that “the U.S. House and Senate basically bowed down to Baal.”
For this alleged infraction, Lamer believed that “any congressman who is a professing Christian [who] took part in the service, the elders of his church should call him to repentance and, if he doesn’t repent, excommunicate him.”
Unlike FRC, Lamer never retracted his error-ridden piece— among other things, the Senate had nothing to do with the prayer — and the essay was still available on World’s website until a recent redesign rendered its URL into a dead end.
Seven years after that episode, in 2007, Christian chauvinists once again displayed their intolerance for other faiths when the U.S. Senate invited a Hindu named Rajan Zed to open a session of the legislative chamber.
Most American Christians remained utterly unaware of his prayer but it incensed many of the same people as before, to an even greater degree.
The American Family Association — a fundamentalist Protestant political group many political junkies have never heard of, despite its $20 million annual budget and deep connections to high-level Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — urged its members to contact their senators and express their outrage at the “pagan ritual.” An AFA spokesman claimed that permitting a Hindu to pray in Congress might bring punishment from God upon the nation. Anti-gay and anti-abortion activist Janet Porter urged her radio listeners to express their outrage to senators about the “abomination.”
Despite the protestations, the ceremony was not canceled. It did not go as planned, however, as three members of the audience decided to interrupt the invocation, with one shouting, “Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing a prayer of the wicked which is an abomination in your sight!”
The protesters were removed and arrested. According to Zed, it was the first time in congressional history that a prayer had been interrupted by protests.
Sadly, the bigotry did not end after the prayer was over. In the ensuing days and weeks, several high-profile individuals and organizations continued to express their disapproval of the invocation. Bill Sali, then a Republican congressman from Idaho, claimed that Zed’s invocation “creates problems for the longevity of this country” since it alleged risked angering God. Former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who is now a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, claimed that the “idolater” Zed had prayed to “millions of false gods” and that the protesters had demonstrated “spiritual courage.”
Not realizing that the Constitution makes no mention of gods of any kind and that Hindus acknowledge a single supreme being, AFA president Tim Wildmon claimed that “this fella does not even believe in one God, as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence speak of.” FRC also weighed in, saying it believed Zed should not have been permitted to pray in the Senate.
Wiley Drake, former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, defended the protesters, saying they “had no choice” but to protest the “ungodly” prayer. After trying to prevent the ceremony, Janet Porter blasted it as “state-sanctioned prayer to false gods” and praised the disruptors for having “boldly stood up.” Without a hint of irony, she proclaimed that “God and freedom [were] assaulted in the Senate."
In 2015, eight years after the U.S. Senate incident, Rajan Zed was once again targeted by Christian supremacists, this time in Idaho when a state senator named Steve Vick tried to stop him from delivering an invocation to the Boise legislature. Fortunately, Vick’s intolerance was ignored, although he was joined by two other fellow senators who refused to be in the chamber during Zed’s prayer.
One of the dissenting senators, Sheryl Nuxoll, was especially noxious in her refusal claiming that “Hindu is a false faith with false gods. I think it’s great that Hindu people can practice their religion but since we’re the Senate, we’re setting an example of what we, Idaho, believe.”
Despite receiving many calls for an apology for her disrespectful and unprofessional language, Nuxoll doubled down on bigotry, saying, “I felt I had to abstain, because I’m not going to be praying to false gods. … It is a Christian nation based on Christian principles.”
Erickson’s fellow Religious Right warriors have also targeted Jews and other Christians as well. Even high-level party officials have been willing to do so. In 2010, a member of Texas' powerful State Republican Executive Committee wrote in a private email that he wanted to remove house speaker Joe Straus from his position, solely because Straus is Jewish.
"We elected a house with Christian, conservative values,” committee member John Cook said in an email to his colleagues. “We now want a true Christian, conservative running it."
According to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Christian denominations that believe in same-sex marriage can only “loosely” be described as being followers of Jesus. As such, he said, they are not entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment.
“Here’s a test of what is a true religious freedom,” he said on his radio show in 2014. “A freedom that’s based on orthodox religious viewpoints. It has to have a track record, it has to come forth from religious orthodoxy.”
Perkins was replying to a caller who had asked him about a court case launched by some North Carolina ministers who were suing their state because it prohibited clergy from performing marriage ceremonies for couples who did not possess an official wedding certificate. North Carolina did not permit same-sex marriages at the time, and the ministers argued their freedom of religion was being infringed since they could not perform even unofficial lesbian or gay weddings. The plaintiffs won their case later that year but, according to Perkins, they should have been laughed out of court.
“They’re playing games here, trying to turn the effort that so many Americans are now faced with of preserving religious freedom,” he argued. “They’re now trying to do a jujitsu move and say, ‘We’re going to use religious freedom to say we have a right to do same-sex marriage.’ Well, there is no foundation for that. There is no orthodox Christian holding that has ever said marriage is between people of the same sex.”
Erick Erickson may indeed be correct that Paula White has a different view of the trinity than most Christians do. That's not why she shouldn't be strutting her stuff at the Trump inauguration, however. It's because she's a scammer who (like so many other "prosperity" preachers) takes advantage of legal loopholes to enrich herself.
The government has no business determining who is or isn't a "true Christian." Someone who wishes to be taken seriously as a political commentator shouldn't be in that business either.