President Donald Trump was in Atlanta earlier this week for a summit on opioid abuse when he decided, for some reason, to pop off about religion.
Promoting the role of faith-based initiatives in combatting social ills, Trump said, “America is a nation that believes in the power of prayer and the strength of fellowship, and we believe in the grace of God. And we’re proud of it.”
Like a lot of Trump statements, that one’s simply not accurate. Many Americans believe in the power of prayer and the grace of God, but plenty of others don’t. That’s why blanket statements about what Americans believe about religion are bound to be not just wrong but offensive – they exclude millions of our fellow citizens. (The not-so-subtle implication of such statements, after all, is that real Americans believe in God and prayer.)
I’m tired of politicians making broad assumptions like this. I’m also tired of the simplistic belief that often accompanies them – that “faith-based” approaches are always the best way to solve the thorny problems our nation faces, be they drug addiction, crime or homelessness, and thus it’s not only right, but sensible, to pour taxpayer dollars into such programs.
We had this argument during the George W. Bush administration. Bush was a huge fan of the “faith-based” approach. He talked it up constantly and steered as much tax money as he could toward it. He even allowed these programs to take taxpayer money while discriminating in hiring on religious grounds.
But there was an inconvenient fact standing in the way: There was absolutely no objective evidence that “faith-based” approaches worked better than others. (To his credit, John DiIulio, the first director of Bush’s faith-based office, would admit this.)
Nevertheless, Trump and his top officials are careening down the same road. During the April 23 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Mick Mulvaney, the White House’s chief of staff, boasted that faith drives many of the Trump administration’s public policy proposals.
“[T]he principles of our faith [are] being manifest” under Trump, Mulvaney said, adding, “The president has allowed us, Christians of all denominations, folks from all different faiths … to be very vocal about their faith, and to practice their faith, and to take their faith and work it into our policies.”
What Mulvaney failed to mention is that it’s a very particular kind of faith that this administration promotes – one that millions of Americans, believers and non-theists alike, reject. Yet that faith – and let’s make no mistake about it, it’s most often the faith of the president’s far-right evangelical posse – increasingly drives discussions about private school vouchers, reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, denials of service, religion-based discrimination in foster care and adoption programs, government’s display of religious symbols and a host of other church-state issues.
Trump and the members of his administration can attempt to dress up their agenda in all the “civil religion” and “religious freedom” verbiage they want. It’s an ill-fitting costume, and the truth keeps peeking through: This administration’s faith is the narrow, controlling and often mean-spirited one embraced by the budding theocrats of the Religious Right.
And millions of Americans have no absolutely no faith in that.
(Photo: President Trump speaking in Atlanta. Screenshot via Fox 10, Phoenix)