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Evangelicals worship their president but seem blind to the multitude of signs that Donald Trump’s holy trinity is “me, myself and I”

JOHN 8:44

MASS APPEAL Trump’s efforts to harness the political muscle of evangelicals goes back to at least 2011, when he sought guidance from religious leaders on whether he should challenge President Obama in his run for a second term.

AS HURRICANE HARVEY INUNDATED Houston and tens of thousands fled, good Samaritans emerged on the seething waters. Boat owners from as far away as Louisiana pushed all manner of craft into the deluge, steering down urban streets that had been transformed into rivers, risking their lives to rescue men, women and children. Furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale opened his showrooms to dozens of wet refugees and their pets for several nights. Even workers trapped in a bakery by the rising tide thought first of others—they used the time they were marooned to bake for the hungry and the homeless.

Such acts of bravery and charity were as uplifting as the megastorm was crushing. But that spirit of generosity was not universal. As more than 9,000 displaced people packed into the George R. Brown Convention Center—almost double its capacity—one very large, very warm, very dry and very Christian space remained shuttered. The Lakewood megachurch, whose 606,000-square-foot interior can hold 16,000 people, would not be offering shelter, millionaire pastor Joel Osteen said, because it was in danger of being flooded.

Although nosy reporters quickly discovered that his precious church was both accessible and bone-dry, neither God nor scribe could move Osteen to embrace the stranded multitudes. But Twitter did, in a spasm of scorn delivered with the hashtag #OpenTheDoors. (The church was a shelter, yes, but a tax shelter, wags said.) After 48 hours of public flogging, Osteen relented—just as the sun was coming out in Houston and the waters were receding, taking with them his saintly reputation.

Osteen’s brand of closed-door Christianity is increasingly common on the conservative fringes of American fundamentalism, where profitability is considered next to godliness. Versions of that flinty theology, sometimes called prosperity gospel, dominate President Donald Trump’s evangelical panel, 25 pastors and religious conservatives who have mostly dispensed with those Sunday school homilies about Jesus loving the sick and poor, and Jesus responding to attacks with a turn of the cheek. They preach that their Lord hates entitlements, from welfare to Obamacare, that climate change is the talk of pagan heretics and that their heavenly father is fine with nuclear first strikes, as long as it’s America droppin’ the hammer.

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DOES GOD BELIEVE IN TRUMP? Inside this issue we feature the amazing story The Donald's rebirth from sinner to saviour of the Christian right.