As Donald Trump hits a new poll high of 41% just days before the Iowa Caucus, it beggars belief that he's now hoodwinked God's rather large Republican Evangelical army, and is going to take the first prize in the caucus/primaries. At least it is entertaining.
Unless you have been living on Planet 9 (Mars is too close), you will be aware that ‘we’ are in the home stretch for the Iowa Caucus....the first of the generators of momentum, consolidation, winnowing and friction within the candidates vying to be America’s new Commander in Chief.
To date we have two ‘E’ words to deal with - Establishment, which seems to be the dirty word, and Evangelicals which are obviously the angels, for the meantime anyway.
Ever since this group so glibly referred to as Evangelicals came out of nowhere to put their favourite Pat Robertson second in their caucus vote ahead of the then Vice President GHW Bush, Republicans have really, and I mean really paid them attention. Although it must be said Evangelical friendly campaign promises were not necessarily implemented.
For example Carter didn’t appoint Evangelicals to powerful positions in the federal government as promised, even though this born-again man was in the White House with the same initials as our Lord’s; Reagan horrified the when he appointed pro-choice Sandra Day O’Conner to the Supreme Court.
Yet, today’s Republican candidates have been very busy trying desperately to out-Christ each other with the aim of luring the Evangelical vote.
The irony of course being the man who technically should evoke amongst them a collective Exorcist-style head spin and associated green bile, has become their straw-haired darling.
“Why do they love me?” Trump asks. “You’ll have to ask them. But they do. They do love me.”
The man attracted 18,000 people to his first Bible Belt rally not long after declaring his candidacy.
Since then he has proclaimed the Bible as his favourite book, though he couldn’t recite even a verse.
Recently in an excruciating performance at the well known Christian Liberty University he botched a reference to ‘second Corinthians‘ thus: “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame”, followed by a pledge to defend Christianity which is under siege.
And yet Evangelicals continue to call Trump a man of conviction, if not faith.
Given there are roughly 100 million Evangelicals in the United States, their significant support for the money obsessed, arrogant, foul mouthed fact-free and until recently pro abortion Trump, must say more about the talent famine within the Republican party than it does of its current leading contender.
It defies logic, but there’s a vast golden tower of logic to be eviscerated from the American body politic before this election is over.
For those who adhere to the separation of church and state mantra of modern democracies, the blatant sucking up to this particular group in a growing secular America is quite perplexing and therefore solid fodder for comics.
According to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) there has been a problem in how we all define Evangelicals.
I listened to a half hour podcast interview between NAE President Leith Anderson and researcher, author, statistician and university professor Et Stetzer in order to determine the four point test of true evangelism, the tenets of which one must strongly embrace and believe, in order to sort the real from the also rans.
First you have to believe in the Bible as your highest authority.
(On that basis Mike Hukabee defended court clerk Kim Davis for refusing to process the paperwork for gay marriages. The Bible, not the Government set her rules)
Second, it is very important to you to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their saviour. After all, how can you be an Evangelical if you don’t care about evangelism.
Number three is that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only sacrifice that can remove the penalty of your sin, by which the cross is established as central in the Christian message - aka ‘crucicentrism‘.
And lastly, but clearly not the least, only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their saviour receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
With 30% of Americans strongly signing up to all four, it is obvious why the Republican candidates are sucking up to this bloc.
Stetzer claims that while people don’t like to say the following out loud, it is a statistical reality that the less you go to church the more likely you are to be a Democrat, and the more you go to church, the more likely you are to be a Republican.
Hence Trump now goes to church, knowing there will be cameras outside.
At the other end of the spectrum, the growing secularism of the country allows Bernie Sanders to be the first Presidential hopeful to describe himself as secular.
What is at play is the Evangelical bloc is remaining steadfast and devout, while other mainline religions are in congregational free fall.
And so in a few days Iowa kicks off a series of caucuses, conventions and primaries in states heavily dominated by white Evangelicals.
After March 8, the process begins to even out as states with significantly lower numbers of white Evangelicals come into play (with the exception of North Carolina, West Virginia and South Dakota).
It may be the real reason Michael Bloomberg is holding off till March before announcing whether he will jump into the race, what with all those ‘New York values’ he might not be able to shirk off as astonishingly as Teflon Trump.
For Trump, the near future involves holding his poll lead and hoping in the Christians who believe he is one of them - albeit an immature, less godly version.
Some have been warned by their pastors to look closely at the line-up of candidates in order to weed out the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
With such advice it is difficult to believe any candidates would remain on the ballots. That includes even the hapless Ted Cruz who surely believes in his doctrine, but must be just as aware as the rest of us, to be incapable of implementing any of it.
To invoke the other ‘E’ word of this campaign, even the Republican Establishment can’t stand Mr Cruz, and is beginning to squirm at the possibility of the newly converted Evangelical comb over as its next representative.
Perhaps there is method in the madness of the drawn out American Presidential campaigns.
They offer time, and with time there is hope for a Saviour.