Culture

Jim Bakker: 'Trump Is a Test [For] Whether You're Even Saved'

Twitter video screenshot of televangelist Jim Bakker.

Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker has returned to a form of prominence and most recently made the statement that support for President Donald Trump is a “test” that reveals whether or not a person is “even saved.” The statement verged on a kind of almost pagan power worship, but the televangelist did make one salient point about forgiveness.

“He keeps signing things to protect the church, and he’s helped Israel and recognized Israel. He’s fulfilling Bible [prophecy] whether you like it or not, and you know what? Trump is a test, whether you’re even saved,” Bakker said on his Jim Bakker show last Monday. “Only saved people can love Trump.”

“No, you’ve got to be really saved! You’ve got to forgive! You forgive when you’re saved. If you don’t forgive, the Bible says you won’t be forgiven,” he added. “This window — almost every prophet I know has said Trump is basically giving us a window of time, and this could close the window. 2020 could close the window. And the Lord spoke to me: ‘It’s in the church’s hands.'”

Naturally, these comments struck a nerve. The NeverTrump group Lincoln Project included the comments in a recent ad, “MAGA Church.” The ad aims to drive a wedge between evangelicals and Trump, by focusing on prosperity gospel preacher Paula White, Trump’s 2015 remarks about not seeking forgiveness from God, his infamous Access Hollywood comments, some of the president’s harsh rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail, and more. The ad quotes scriptural warnings about false prophets.

Indeed, Bakker’s comments deserve this kind of ridicule, even though evangelical Christians have many reasons to support the president. I myself opposed Trump in 2016, partially because of his unrepentant pride and because I believed he could not be trusted to keep his campaign promises. As it turns out, I was wrong. Trump has proven himself reliable on the issues I care about most, with the exception of entitlement reform and paring back federal spending. When it comes to abortion, religious freedom, originalist judges, and more, he has proven himself reliable.

That said, it is always and everywhere a mistake to consider politics a litmus test for salvation. The Bible commands Christians to pray for those in authority and to act peaceably to others, to give to the poor and to love their enemies, but it nowhere commands a particular stance on politics. Biblical morality does bolster certain political positions, but politics is always secondary to faith.

Bakker has long been exposed as a huckster. A former Assemblies of God minister, he and his former wife Tammy Faye hosted the television program The PTL Club and developed a now-defunct Christian theme park called Heritage USA. A scandal involving hush money paid to a church secretary, Jessica Hahn, for an alleged rape led to Bakker’s resignation from the ministry. Revelations of accounting fraud led to his conviction on felony charges, imprisonment, and divorce.

Bakker later remarried and returned to televangelism. He hosts The Jim Bakker Show, which focuses on end-times prophecies and promotes emergency survival products.

Sadly, Trump has opened his inner circle to some hucksters, including prosperity gospel preacher Paula White. The notorious businessman is often associated with wealth and prosperity, which makes him a convenient figure for preachers who tell crowds that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy — a false version of Christianity that purposefully hides God’s true promises of persecution in this world and glory in the next.

It seems very on-brand for Bakker to frame support for Trump as a salvation issue, but doing so is just as wrong and heinous as Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s constant insistence that “true” Christians must agree with his liberal politics.

However, the notorious televangelist did make one good point about Trump. He said, “You forgive when you’re saved. If you don’t forgive, the Bible says you won’t be forgiven.” This is true (Matthew 6:14-15) — and it should terrify Christians. It is extremely hard to forgive anyone who has wronged you, but Jesus clearly states that since God forgave us our sins, we should forgive others. This does not mean Christians must always abandon justice, and it does not mean that repentance is unnecessary. However, the strongest Christian witness comes when a wronged believer offers unmerited forgiveness to an enemy.

Trump is a notorious sinner but Christians believe that God’s forgiveness can save anyone. Those who find Trump odious should cultivate a charitable spirit toward the president. Christians do not have to agree with Trump’s policies or support him as a candidate, but they should at least pray for his welfare. This also applies to the political foes of conservatives. Conservative Christians should pray for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and work to cultivate a charitable spirit toward them, as well.

I consider Trump a champion of religious freedom and of many values inspired by Christianity. He is, however, rude and uncouth — especially on Twitter. He seems to have made moral progress from many of his most notorious failings, but his pride should still be odious to Christians who follow the humble suffering servant.

Even Christians who consider Trump an enemy should try to cultivate a charitable outlook toward him, as all Christians should strive to love their enemies. Support for Trump is not a test for salvation, but the ability to forgive him arguably is a test of whether or not the Holy Spirit is working in us.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.