Last week, evangelical leader Franklin Graham gave an interview that gained quite a bit of attention, mainly for the fact that he reinforced a popular narrative within far-right pro-Trump Christian circles: namely the idea that philosophical and moral opposition to President Trump is not just a matter of political ideology, but a struggle between good and evil in spiritual terms.
“What do you think of what is happening now?" Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas asked Graham. "I mean, it’s a very bizarre situation to be living in a country where some people seem to exist to undermine the president of the United States. It's just a bizarre time for most Americans.”
“Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying...” Graham said before he was interrupted by Metaxas.
“I would disagree," Metaxes said. "It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.”
“People seem to have devolved to a kind of moralistic Pharisaism," Metaxes continued. "And they say, ‘How can you support somebody blah, blah, blah,’ and then go on to cite how he’s the least Christian—you know, they go on and on, and I think these people don’t, they don’t even have a biblical view when it comes to that—you know, that if somebody doesn’t hold to our theology, that doesn’t mean they can’t be a great pilot, or a great doctor or dentist. I mean, it’s a bizarre situation that we’re in, that people seem only to have these standards for the president somehow.”
Graham then responded by stumping for Trump's alleged Christianity.
“I believe that Donald Trump believes—he believes in God. He believes in Jesus Christ. His depth—he doesn’t, you know, he went to churches here in New York; he didn’t get a whole lot of teaching.”
Writing for The Atlantic, Peter Wehner says that Graham and Metaxes aren't simply making an argument that Trump's critics are wrong. They're accusing said critics of being under the influence of demonic forces, "which for a Christian is about as serious an accusation as there is."
"There is no biblical or theological case to support the claim that critics of Donald Trump are under the spell of Satan," Wehner writes. "It is invented out of thin air, a shallow, wild, and reckless charge meant to be a conversation stopper."
Wehner points out a key contradiction in Graham's logic. In the interview, the preacher and son of the legendary televangelist, Billy Graham, somewhat misleadingly praises the alleged strength of Trump's economy over former President Obama's.
"Yet even if the economy were 'screaming forward' in the way Graham claims, this problem would still remain: During the second term of Bill Clinton’s presidency, when the economy was in many respects stronger than it is today, Franklin Graham wasn’t defending Clinton’s moral and ethical transgressions based on the economy growing at 4 percent annually, which might translate into more tithing and church-building projects. He didn’t overlook Clinton’s affair with an intern because we had a budget surplus," he writes.
Wehner then pointed to an op-ed Graham wrote in The Wall Street Journal during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal where contends that God "says that what one does in private does matter."
"If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?" Graham wrote, referring to the marital transgressions of Bill Clinton.
Now in the age of Trump, Wehner says Graham's "spiritual vigor seems to have waned a bit."
"Graham and Metaxas appear to believe that they, along with Donald Trump, are part of a holy crusade to rid the world of evil, wickedness, and demonic powers. What they are saying in their interview is that you either stand with them, or you stand with the forces of Satan."
Read Wehner's full piece here.