This morning, Donald Trump spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, the same event at which he once promised a repeal of the Johnson Amendment (which never happened) and trashed Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He didn’t make any promises this time, and he stuck to the prepared remarks, but that didn’t mean his speech was without glaring problems.
Just take a look at the transcript and you’ll see why this speech wasn’t just some generic support for people of faith. It was specific support for Christians, at the expense of everybody else. And it perpetuated the myth of the “Christian nation” at every turn.
America is a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer. This morning, our hearts are full of gratitude as we come together for the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast.
That’s a lie. We are a nation of believers and non-believers, and the latter group is growing at an incredibly fast rate. Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted that even President Obama made sure to be inclusive of people who didn’t believe in the majority religion.
The reality is, Trump is the president of a nation of believers and non-believers. Would it hurt him to recognize that? It’s not hard for politicians to be personally religious yet still acknowledge that some Americans aren’t interested in being people of faith. President Barack Obama is a Christian yet when he spoke about faith, he often included non-believers when discussing the incredible range of religious and philosophical thought in the country.
Trump also suggested our nation was Christian at its core because of the ways God is referenced in our history.
Each year, this event reminds us that faith is central to American life and to liberty. Our founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Our currency declares, “In God We Trust.” (Applause.) And we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are “One Nation Under God.” (Applause.)
Notice that he refers to the Declaration of Independence and not the Constitution, which has no reference to a Creator. (As the saying goes, the word “religion” appears twice in the Constitution, both times preceded by the word “no.”)
“In God We Trust” is on our currency for the same reason “One Nation Under God” is in the Pledge. They were shoved in there in the 1950s as a conservative response to the scourge of Communism, not because there’s some inherent truth to those statements. They were political moves. And Trump used them as evidence of some mythical historical Christianity our nation is founded upon.
As for proof of how God is found in the American people, Trump talked about first responders and other heroes… people who, Christian or not, took action in times of distress instead of turning to prayer, which would’ve been a waste of time.
When catastrophic hurricanes struck, first responders and everyday citizens dove into rushing waters to save stranded families from danger. And they saved them by the thousands. Neighbors opened their homes to those in need of food, clothes, shelter. Firefighters braved blinding smoke and flames to rescue children from devastating wildfires.
During the horrific shootings, strangers shielded strangers, and police officers ran into a hail of bullets to save the lives of their fellow Americans, right in Las Vegas. A terrible day, a terrible night. But such bravery.
Such bravery doesn’t require God’s help. If anything, Christians ought to wonder why the same Lord they thank in times of disaster allowed those tragedies to occur.
Perhaps the most appalling thing Trump said was a story about a little girl who was cured of a debilitating disease because of prayer.
Here with us today is another symbol of hope, a very brave 9-year-old girl named Sophia Marie Campa Peters. Sophia suffers from a rare disease that has caused her to have many strokes. At one point, the doctors told Sophia that she would not be able to walk.
Sophia replied, “If you’re only going to talk about what I can’t do, then I don’t want to hear it — (laughter) — just let me try to walk.” (Applause.)
She tried, and she succeeded. And one of her doctors even told her mom — and they’re right here in the front row where they should be — “This little girl has God on her side.” (Applause.) Thank you, Sophia. Thank you, mom. Great mom.
I said, “Do you love your mom?” She said, “I have a great mom. I love my mom.” (Laughter.) Right?
Just two weeks ago, Sophia needed to have a very high-risk surgery. She decided to ask the whole world to pray for her, and she hoped to reach 10,000 people.
On January 24th, as Sophia went into surgery, she far surpassed her goal. Millions and millions of people lifted Sophia up in their prayers.
Today, we thank God that Sophia is with us, and she’s recovering, and she’s walking very well. (Applause.)
Millions of people may have prayed for Sophia, but if she’s recovering, the only people who deserve credit are the doctors who worked on her and the scientists who are studying her disease. No prayers are a good substitute for professionals who know what they’re doing — and I suspect damn near all religious people would choose those experts over millions of prayers if they had to pick just one. But since they don’t have to choose, they’re giving the same God who gave Sophia the rare disease all the credit in the world for her recovery.
The American Humanist Association said Trump’s speech “punche[d] nontheists in the gut” with his anti-science and overtly Christian remarks.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA, who has consistently expressed concerns regarding the Constitutionally questionable nature of the National Prayer Breakfast itself, added that, “Trump has taken these government endorsed prayer breakfasts to a new low, demonstrating his ignorance and disdain for the growing diversity of faiths and philosophies found in the country he’s supposed to be leading.”
Trump doesn’t care, of course. The only constituencies he seems to care about are wealthy people and evangelicals. And this speech was all about paying lip service to the latter group for standing by his side in overwhelming numbers.
Trump told them all about the goodness of their God before heading back into the White House to make a further mockery of our democracy. And the Christians in the audience loved every minute of it.