President Trump drew skeptical approval from evangelicals Friday when he added controversial evangelist Paula White to his inner circle. She attended a strategy session Friday, which included the discussion on the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Trump first met Paula 15 years ago when he called her out of the blue. He called in to her television show, Paula White Today, which airs on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). He explained he admired her teachings, and arranged to meet with her for prayer. White later stated they booked an all-day meeting in which Paula and her team prayed with Trump for six hours. She wouldn’t comment much on the faith of Donald Trump, but she did say he “has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” and called him a “baby Christian.”
Trump officially claims himself as Presbyterian, although his most formative religious experiences go back to Norman Vincent Peale, a motivational speaker in the 1960 who advocates success through positive thinking. Peale pastored a church in Manhattan and Trump’s diminutive childhood religious experiences included Peale’s church.
White, who pastors New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, is largely credited with “bringing Donald Trump to Christ.” She won’t confirm or deny this at Trump’s request, stating he believes faith is a “personal and private matter.” White is an up and comer on the national Christian scene, and much like her protégé, receives mixed reviews from the evangelical set.
She is an advocate of the controversial “prosperity gospel.” Sometimes misunderstood, the prosperity gospel is actually altruistic at its core. It takes its base from Jesus’ words, “Whatever a man sows he shall thus surely reap.” This principal of “reaping and sowing,” is in a sense, the Christian version of karma. But in sowing and reaping, your karma doesn’t just come back in equal measure. It comes back with a vengeance, either good or bad. So, put good karma, or good seeds, and reap good things. Like karma, it is applicable to all aspects of a believer’s life.
Specifically, the teaching says that if a person “sows” for example, dishonesty in their life, they will “reap,” dishonesty from others in exponential proportion. If they sow goodwill toward people, they will reap goodwill from people, in exponential return. If they sow hard work as an employee, in later years, they will reap hard work as an employer. The application of this concept is endless, and can even to be turned material things.
Give away your old computer to someone that needs one, and God will see to it that you get a newer and better one. Give away your lunch, and God will see to it that you somehow get a free lunch, several days in a row. Give away your sofa, and God will see to it you get a brand new sofa. On its own, it’s a feel-good concept with the Golden Rule at its heart. Leave with the warm fuzzies of helping other people, and then get back better stuff; it’s a win-win.
But it gets the most attractive, and then most controversial, when applied toward money. If a believer “sows” money, they will “reap” money, and with the key being…exponentially. So, if a believer doesn’t have enough money for say, rent, they can “sow,” the money they do have into the offering, and expect God to miraculously supply their entire rent money and then some. And that’s where it starts to get dicey.
Critics of the teaching say it takes advantage of people and their fath, in order to make ministers rich. Indeed, in 2013, White claimed $8 million in income and lived in Trump Tower with third husband, rocker Jonathon Cain of Journey fame.
Opponents also say the teaching teeters on trying to manipulate God. White is quoted as telling believers to put money in the offering to, “make a demand on the anointing,” and “move God off His ivory throne,” as if God were sitting on his throne browsing Facebook, and then an order for money came in, requiring the Almighty to sigh and actually get to work solving the world’s problems.
Creflo Dollar, another prosperity minister, advocates yelling, “MONEY, COME TO ME NOW,” and compares God to a cashier at BestBuy, in which customers take a receipt to a receiving dock to redeem it for their purchased merchandise. According to Dollar, God’s promises as laid out in the Bible are like a receipt, and believers just need to cash them in to receive their earthly reward. Critics of the teaching also claim that it puts too much focus of the church on money and getting rich, as opposed to helping people and advancing the causes of Christ.
White has also been quoting as saying she doesn’t believe in the Trinity, and that Jesus is not the only begotten Son of God, he was just the first. She was called a heretic, until she clarified this by saying God’s other children are actually all the Christian believers. While technically falling in line with Christian teaching, it is shaky ground with humanism’s, “we are all gods,” just a stone’s throw away.
Further, in 2013, she was photographed in Rome, outside a hotel alone with Benny Hinn. Hinn admitted the photo’s implications, but denied any impropriety. He explained that he had been inducted as a Vatican patron of the arts, and as such, needed to find donors for it. He had invited White to Rome on a fundraising trip, and insisted there was nothing inappropriate about their friendship. He vowed that he cut all ties with her in response to the photo. Hinn, and wife Suzanne, ended their 30 year marriage not long after.
White was asked by Trump to pray at his inauguration, becoming only the second woman in history to do so. She has also done a handful of other spiritual advising tasks during his brief term. While many evangelicals are happy to have a bona-fide conservative Christian representative advising this new “is-he-or-isn’t-he” born-again president, they are not sure they trust her.
But, then again, to the evangelical right, anything is better than Jeremiah Wright, so they’ll take her.