donald trump
Joseph Sohm/

Evangelical TV preacher Hank Kunneman said of the slew of criminal charges facing Donald Trump, “This is really a battle between good and evil. There’s something about President Trump that the enemy fears: It’s called anointing.” The Nebraska pastor, who was speaking on the cable news show “Flashpoint” last summer, is among several voices in Christian media sharing a message of Biblical proportions: The 2024 presidential race is a fight for America’s soul, and a persecuted Trump has God’s protection.

Author, media personality and self-proclaimed prophet Lance Wallnau said in October on “The Jim Bakker Show,” an hour-long daily broadcast that focuses on news and revelations about the end times that it says we are living in, “They’re just trying to bankrupt him. They’re trying to take everything he’s got. They’re trying to put him in prison. The hand of God is on him, and he cannot be stopped.”

In both the 2016 and 2020 elections, evangelical voters staunchly supported Trump despite claims of adultery and sexual misconduct, which he denied. With Trump now facing dozens of criminal charges as he pursues a second term, some Christian media are bolstering his support by portraying him as an instrument of God’s will who faces persecution by his foes. While the people making these claims are mainly outside the mainstream in Christian media, they have amassed significant online followings, and their messages reverberate across radio shows, cable TV and streaming platforms that reach millions of Americans every day.

The claims that Trump benefits from divine help present a jarring counterpoint to the views voiced by his critics, who denounce him as an immoral grifter set on dismantling democracy and point to his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants in the country illegally and opponents he has threatened to prosecute. The former president’s myriad legal woes include allegations of sexual abuse and financial chicanery. In May, a jury decided Trump must pay $5 million in damages for sexually abusing a magazine writer in the 1990s and then branding her a liar. He is also facing a criminal trial on charges he covered up hush-money payments to a porn star. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

The barrage of legal actions has broadly served to rev up Trump’s support among Republicans rather than diminish it, according to a July Reuters/Ipsos poll. The roughly 80 million Americans who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants – about a quarter of the population – have provided the bedrock for his meteoric rise, and their turnout levels this November could prove critical in a tight contest against Democratic rival Joe Biden. Many conservative Christians have long relied on Christian media to champion political causes tied to their faith, like anti-communism and anti-abortion.

However, what’s new about this election cycle is the unabashed support for Trump and the frequency with which he is depicted as “God’s chosen” leader, said Brian Calfano, a political science and journalism professor at the University of Cincinnati who has researched the proliferation of media-savvy ministers who support Trump. “Before Trump, there was some hero worship of favored politicians, but the larger philosophical or ideological causes received greater attention.”

The language that casts Trump in messianic terms helps to energize his base, said Paul Djupe, a political scientist at Denison University who specializes in religion and politics.

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