Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared on Diana Butler Bass’ blog, The Cottage on March 30, 2023 and is used here with permission.
Donald Trump was indicted this afternoon.
We don’t know the charges yet. Unless a special exception is granted, those will be revealed at his upcoming arraignment.
Breaking news says that Trump will appear before the court on Tuesday. It will occur during Holy Week.
I recently spoke with a journalist about Trump’s increasing use of theological and apocalyptic language to describe himself. This was especially obvious in his Waco speech when he referenced his current campaign as the run-up to the “final battle,” a clear allusion to the Battle of Armageddon in the Book of Revelation. I wrote this on Twitter:
Of course, Trump has always had a messiah complex. I’ve never been much of a theological alarmist (I’ve been alarmed about other things) when it comes to him, but, in recent months, the theological slippage identifying Trump with Jesus Christ has become more even more prominent.
Evangelical and charismatic preachers have been proclaiming Trump’s “second coming.” A large number of white evangelicals — one poll says 50% — believe that Trump is “anointed” by God to be president — in the same way that David was anointed to be King or Jesus was anointed to be Savior. A few days before the Waco rally, a tearful Trump supporter announced that “President Trump is our Savior” in a national interview:
In my conversation with the reporter, I underscored how worrisome this is — all this talk about Trump being anointed, a savior, having a Second Coming. Some observers have said that it is a cult. I’ve come to wonder if it is mass religious delusion.
And I remarked, “The only thing that worries me more than Trump’s messianic pretensions would be if he got indicted and arrested during Holy Week.” If that happened, I predicted, we’d see a full-on Trump/Christ comparison unlike anything we’ve yet seen.
“The only thing that worries me more than Trump’s messianic pretensions would be if he got indicted and arrested during Holy Week.”
And here we are.
Think about it: Just a few days ago, Donald Trump held a triumphal re-entry into his presidential campaign with a massive rally in Waco, Texas — with a kind of perverse Palm Sunday flag-waving fervor. He predicted his own arrest, depicted his enemies as Satan, and threatened the enemies of God. A former president who many believe to be God’s Messiah (“anointed one” is another phrase for “Messiah”) is brought before a judge who millions think is a corrupt agent of an evil government. To his supporters, it will be like Jesus standing before Pilate.
Indeed, Trump’s supporters already tested the Trump-before-Pilate story. During the 2019 impeachment, Republicans defended the former president by comparing him to Jesus. “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Representative Barry Loudermilk of Georgia said on the House floor, “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.” In that same debate, a Pennsylvania Republican quoted Jesus from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But that was in Congress. Trump never showed up. Tuesday will be a real court, with a real docket, a real judge, and a real plea. Donald Trump will have to face charges.
I don’t know how far these comparisons will go. They are offensive, idolatrous, and an affront to millions of faithful believers who are preparing to observe the most sacred week of the Christian year.
But that won’t matter to Trump’s supporters. Social media and evangelical sermons will be awash with this theological and political conflation. We can fully expect that this unholy fusion of Trump and Christ will supercharge emotions during next week’s events in New York. One could wish that the crowd will turn its back on Trump, but I’m not counting on it.
It is hard enough for America to be facing the first-ever indictment of a former president. But knowing that this particular former president is viewed as the Anointed One, who, his followers believe, is like Jesus being persecuted by the legions of Satan, is a theo-political wild card we’ve got to pay attention to. At the time of his arrest, one of Jesus’ disciples attacked a soldier who came to take him away. Jesus insisted: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Do not expect the same from Trump.
This could be a very strange — and certainly historically significant — Holy Week.