Trump’s Christian nationalist shtick could hurt him bigly

Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Georgia Democrat and senior pastor at Atlanta’s iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church, knows a thing or two about Scripture. That’s why I found his warning about Donald Trump’s recent Christian nationalist shtick noteworthy.

Trump has been leaning into portraying himself as a Christ-like figure. On Easter, he even shared an article on social media claiming that he had, in a supernatural miracle, been “sent by God and blessed by God” as the “Chosen One.” The former president also has begun to hawk $60 Trump-endorsed Bibles embossed with the American flag, a choice that Warnock condemned during an interview with CNN on Sunday.

“The Bible does not need Donald Trump’s endorsement, and Jesus, in the very last week of his life, chased the money changers out of the temple, those who would take sacred things and use them as cheap relics to be sold in the marketplace,” he said.

Warnock also offered a warning:

Donald Trump is doing what he’s always done, and this time it’s a risky bet because the folks who buy those Bibles might actually open them up, where it says things like, ‘Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not bear false witness,’ where it warns about wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing.

I think you ought to be careful. This is risky business for somebody like Donald Trump.

Black religious leaders have been quick to condemn Trump’s manipulative use of the Bible before. And the past week has been no different, with the Revs. Al Sharpton and William Barber joining Warnock in offering criticism. And that speaks to how Trump has deepened existing fractures within the evangelical faith in ways that stand to harm him politically.

In February, I wrote about the longtime tradition of Black churchgoers and faith leaders rejecting the type of white Christian nationalism espoused by the MAGA movement. (I recently discussed this with Bishop Barber, by the way, and trust me when I say you should stay tuned for the interview.)

It strains credulity to think that Trump will win over a sizable portion of Black evangelicals by selling them a form of Christianity singularly focused on him. The same can be said for Latino evangelicals, whose support Trump has already put at risk with his racist immigration rhetoric.

And NBC News reported that Asian Americans have become increasingly nonreligious, a trend that could be linked to the rise in Christian nationalism. As Dheepa Sundaram, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Denver, told NBC News:

I think the growing hold of Christian nationalist views, particularly among political leadership, has probably put off a lot of folks that don’t hold political positions that align with that view. I’m wondering if positions on abortion, positions on immigration, positions on social programs have all sort of had a chilling effect.

Taking all that into account, the people who seem most likely to find Trump’s recent shtick appealing are white evangelicals, a group that already backs him enthusiastically … for the most part. But as pastor and social activist Doug Pagitt explained in a recent interview with Chris Hayes, even this group showed signs of moving away from Trump in 2020 — and could do so even more if he continues associating the Bible with his cruel and selfish political agenda.

All of these are reasons for Trump’s campaign to craft nuanced messaging that might appeal to a broad range of religious voters without offending them. But that’s not happening. Instead, the campaign has chosen a ham-handed approach: wrapping the candidate in Scripture and leaning into pro-Trump idolatry.

The former president has already earned condemnation from churchgoers. And at this rate, there may be more in store.