In the last week of Donald Trump’s presidency, I woke one morning suddenly aware that his qualities were the same ones I did not like about God when I was a child.
God was arrogant. The Ten Commandments warned, “I, the LORD thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. . . .”  With the clarity of a third grader, I thought God was unfair to punish children for their elders’ offenses.
My brain’s gatekeeper slammed the door against those rebellious thoughts, but my doubts persisted. As a child, I had wondered why an all-powerful God would create hell and require his own son’s blood to save people from such a terrifying place. The Bible’s explanations made no sense. But I loved and trusted people who fervently believed these doctrines. So I accepted them.
I heard messages in tongues and interpretation during charismatic praise services. A worshipper would call out: “God inhabits the praises of His people!” Gentle waves of glossolalia would sweep through the congregation, tears flowing freely over blissful faces, hands raised heavenward as we sang love songs to Jesus. Worship brought cathartic release.
Trump craved praise and delighted in mocking anyone who dared oppose him. His face would shift between a sneer and a self-satisfied smile as he rallied believers back and forth from hatred to adoration. This pattern reminded me of the psalmist who vowed to hate “with perfect hatred” those who do not love the LORD.
Trump’s threat to destroy North Korea with “fire and fury” like “this world has never seen before” resembled God’s imperious response when King David ordered a census to find men of fighting age. Miffed by this, God sent a pestilence that killed 70,000 Israelites. Even as a child, I saw nothing to admire in temper tantrums.
We no longer need psychotherapists to point out Trump’s personality disorders. Comedians have satirized his narcissism, paranoia, and delusions of grandeur. I had long forgotten how much this behavior resembled what I disliked about God when I was six or seven. I could not fathom why God ordered the Israelites to slay the babies and animals of people they had conquered. Why had God struck a man dead for trying to protect the Ark of the Covenant? God wanted people to fear him, much like Republicans in Congress trembled at Trump’s uncanny power over their constituents.
Therapists have identified the psychological effects of “Trump angst” on their patients, a constant uneasiness and dread. When I was a pastor, I saw similar signs of “God angst” in people worried about God’s capricious demands. Catholic priests use the word “scrupulosity” of parishioners who are terrified that something they do unwittingly might upset God. One woman, who for years had faithfully cooked fish on Fridays, phoned her priest to ask what kind of soup God wanted her to make. The clinical name for such a neurosis is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), often called the “doubting disease.” Sufferers find themselves automatically performing rituals to calm their unrelenting fears.
On January 6th, 2021, Trump’s last-ditch efforts to overturn the 2020 election failed spectacularly. Incited by the President, thousands of his frenzied white followers stormed through Congressional barricades, intent on securing his uninterrupted rule. Christians carried a fish banner and “Jesus Saves” signs. An off-duty police officer paraded a Confederate flag through the halls of Congress. A right-wing militia scurried up the stairs wearing fatigues. A QAnon priest, triumphant in his horns and war paint, whooped his delight.
Twitter and Facebook locked the Trump accounts, belatedly removing his incendiary posts.
Shortly before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th, Air Force One evacuated Trump to his refuge at Mar-A-Lago. His people waited for a miracle. When it never came, some suffered a crisis of faith. Their hopes turned to dust.
I empathize with the multitudes drawn into the vortex of Trump’s chaotic presidency. Christians who found apocalyptic ideas compelling were susceptible to Russian trolls, QAnon messages, and propaganda on Fox News. Guided by algorithms on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms, they fell prey to clickbait that plunged them further down the rabbit hole of disinformation without corrective truths or critical thinking. I felt moved by the story of one mother who became so absorbed in pedophile conspiracy allegations that she neglected her own children.
I, too, became absorbed in my work, confident that the Holy Spirit was assigning me enormous tasks each time I felt a prompting. I neglected our children. Now I look at the photos of them growing up and wonder who they were and what we missed by not being closer.
I am grateful that our children never gave much credence to the “Jesus Festival” that we attended with youth from our churches in 1984. We were shocked by evangelists who praised President Reagan and preached the prosperity gospel to people seated on that Pennsylvania hillside. The President played to Christian fears of Armageddon and spent unprecedented billions on his “Strategic Defense Initiative.” His agriculture department entertained the idea that ketchup and relish could be considered vegetables for poor children to eat at school. I privately wondered if Ronald Wilson Reagan might indeed be the 666 that apocalyptic scriptures warned against.
Our children tolerated their parents, made us proud, and stopped going to church as soon as they left home. It took Phil and me two more decades to discover in 2009 that we no longer believed the supernatural doctrines we once proclaimed. Our faith is stronger than ever, not in ancient creeds, but in rigorous science, critical thinking, and the resilient power of love.
Exodus 20:5, KJV
Based on Psalm 22:3 KJV
As the psalmist promises the LORD in Psalm 139:20–22 KJV
2 Samuel 24:15
1 Samuel 15:3; Numbers 16:41–49
2 Samuel 6:1–7; 1 Chronicles 13:9–12
The International OCD Foundation provides insight for therapists and patients in the context of a supportive community.
Klepper, David, “Checked by reality, some QAnon conspiracy supporters want out,” AP, 29 Jan. 2021