Rare is the day that I do not receive an email or two from readers who want me to write a GetReligion post making fun of something strange that happened in the news.
Some of these letters come from the cultural right. More of them come from the cultural left, asking this blog to blow holes in this or that statement by a Religious Right type.
The key is that they want me to comment on the craziness of the story itself, not whether this news story was handled in an accurate and professional manner. The letters usually include a statement to this effect: If GetReligion was really interested in religion news, you’d be writing what I want you to write about x, y or z.
The problem is that, most of the time, the URLs included in these messages point to perfectly normal news stories about a statement that may or may not be crazy, depending on your point of view. There’s nothing there for your GetReligionistas to note, in terms of really good or really bad religion-news writing.
The key, as always, is this: GetReligion is not a religion-news site. This is a blog about mainstream media efforts — good and bad — to cover religion news. There’s no need for lots of posts that say, in effect: Hey! Look at this absolutely normal news story about something that somebody said the other day.
With that in mind, let’s turn to this question: Did God want Donald Trump to be president?
MT. OLYMPUS (The Borowitz Report) — Partially confirming Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s theory of divine intervention in the 2016 election, Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, discord, and strife, revealed on Friday that she had wanted Donald J. Trump to be President.
Speaking from her temple on Mt. Olympus, the usually reclusive deity said that Trump was “far and away” her first choice to be President in 2016.
“I’d been following his career for years,” the goddess of disorder and ruin said. “The bankruptcies, the business failures. There was a lot for me to love.”
Actually, that isn’t a news report. That’s a piece of satire from The New Yorker. However, that sort of demonstrates the tone of lots of the emails that I’ve been getting.
Here, of course, is what that blue-zip-code bible is mocking (care of a Holly Meyer report from The Tennessean in Nashville). The headline proclaimed: “Sarah Huckabee Sanders says God wanted Trump to be president. She's not the only one who believes that.” And here’s the overture:
Did God really want Donald Trump to be president?
That's what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders thinks, according to an interview she gave … for the Christian Broadcasting Network's news program.
"I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president," Sanders said, according to CBN News. "That's why he's there and I think he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about."
Sanders' roughly 20-minute discussion with CBN News covered a range of issues. But it is her remarks about God desiring Trump's presidency that are grabbing headlines and stirring discussion on social media.
That belief is not unique to Sanders, but one many evangelical Christians share, said James Hudnut-Beumler, an American religious history professor at Vanderbilt University.
As you would expect, a historian who focuses on religion, and is based in Nashville, is going to be familiar with the beliefs of some (repeat SOME) conservative evangelical Protestants. And, as you would expect, a historian based at a school that leads strongly to the religion and-or secular left is going to note — with good cause — some inconsistencies in how many (repeat MANY, not ALL) evangelicals read parts of the Bible.
In this case, quite a few religious believers would say that we are talking about a subject that is directly linked to all of those “lesser of two evils” debates that preceding the 2016 election.
On Twitter, I responded to the Sanders reports with this comment:
In other words, I was asking if God WANTED Trump to be president or if God ALLOWED Trump to become president. We’re talking about two radically different theological options. Yes, this puzzle is something like all those “theodicy” debates surrounding news about an all-powerful, loving God allowing great natural disasters (although I a sure Trump supporters would disagree with that logic).
In other words, there are lots of options to consider here. Maybe editors at The Tennessean would allow their veteran religion-beat pro a bit more space to explore this complex and controversial terrain?
In this case, I think they would find something similar to my typology describing different stances that evangelicals have taken on whether or not to vote for The Donald. Here are those six stances again:
(1) Many evangelicals supported Trump from the get-go. For them, Trump is great and everything is going GREAT.
(2) Other evangelicals may have supported Trump early on, but they have always seen him as a flawed leader — but the best available. They see him as complicated and evolving and are willing to keep their criticisms PRIVATE.
(3) There are evangelicals who moved into Trump's tent when it became obvious he would win the GOP nomination. They think he is flawed, but they trust him to — at least — protect their interests, primarily on First Amendment issues.
(4) Then there are the lesser-of-two-evils Trump evangelicals who went his way in the general election, because they could not back Hillary Clinton under any circumstances. They believe Trump's team has done some good, mixed with quite a bit of bad, especially on race and immigration. They think religious conservatives must be willing to criticize Trump — in public.
(5) There are evangelicals who never backed Trump and they never will. Many voted for third-party candidates. They welcome seeing what will happen when Trump team people are put under oath and asked hard questions. … However, they are willing to admit that Trump has done some good, even if in their heart of hearts they'd rather be working with President Mike Pence.
(6) Folks on the evangelical left simply say, "No Trump, ever." Anything he touches is bad and must be rejected. Most voted for Clinton. …
Now, would evangelicals in Camp 1 say that God wanted Trump in the White House? You betcha.
What about Camp 2? I think you’d see lots of debate about this theological puzzle, even in that camp of Trump supporters. I guarantee you’d see sparks flying in Camps 3-5.
So, is this a topic worthy of serious news reporting? Obviously, I think the answer is “yes.”
Is serious reporting what many of my correspondents wanted, in this case? Probably not. They wanted to ask why your GetReligionistas hadn’t joined in the online party, laughing along with folks who wanted to bash Sanders and others who share her beliefs. That’s fine, I guess. But that’s not why were are here, doing what we do.