During his presidential election run in 2012, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, took a call from the evangelical broadcaster and onetime White House hopeful Pat Robertson. “God told me you are going to be president,” Robertson confided to Romney, according to McKay Coppins’s recent biography, “Romney: A Reckoning.”
Could this have been a miscommunication? (A friend of mine insists that “we had a miscommunication” really means: “you made a mistake.”) I hope so, because we’d prefer to think that God gets it right, most of the time.
Or does she/he/it/them?
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has told anyone who will listen that God assured him repeatedly, starting 30 years ago, that “you are going to be the mayor January 1, 2022,” the day he was sworn in. Good call by the divinity!
It’s unclear if God likewise predicted that FBI agents would seize all of Adams’s phone and computer devices in what appears to be the beginning of a federal investigation into as-yet unspecified wrongdoing. It’s equally unclear if the volubly devout Adams has practiced Christianity throughout his life cycles. According to The New Yorker, he once declared a “firm” belief in reincarnation and described a previous life as an ancient Sumerian.
On the other side of the nave, as it were, newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson is likewise very much a God guy. In his first speech as speaker, he reminded the House “that God is the one who raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you. All of us.” Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters calls some of Johnson’s views “truly frightening,” specifically his suggestion that the teaching of evolution has led to school shootings.
It’s darkly comical that while Johnson claims that the Bible directly informs his worldview, he retains the right to edit the text as needed. When reminded that God instructed us to welcome strangers (Leviticus 19: 33-34; “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him … thou shalt love him as thyself”), the anti-immigration exegete has explained that God is instructing his followers, not the government, to welcome strangers among them.
One of the most popular presidents in recent memory, New Hampshire’s fictional Jed Bartlet, reminded us in a famous scene from the television series “The West Wing” that it’s very difficult to live life in strict accordance with biblical teachings. Debating a televangelist who insisted that the Bible abhors homosexuality, Bartlet asks if he should execute his chief of staff for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35: 2) or prohibit the Washington Redskins (now Commanders) from touching the skin of a dead pig (Leviticus 11: 7-8).
Predictably, there is no answer.
To cite another famous Hollywood moment, the Bible resembles the storied Pirate’s Code from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. As the pirate lord Hector Barbossa, played by Oliver Reed, explains to a beleaguered Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley): “It’s more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”
Yet in times of stress, God and the Bible are inevitably called upon to perform the heavy lifting. In a memorable video clip from the 2020 presidential election battle, Donald Trump’s “spiritual adviser” Paula White-Cain promised that angels were flying in (“from Africa. From South America. Angelic forces. Angelic reinforcement. Angelic reinforcement”) to rescue the contested election for Trump.
White-Cain has moved on to work with the Virginia-based nonprofit Intercessors for America, which called for an “emergency prayer call” on behalf of Trump after his April indictment by New York state’s attorney general. Judging from their website, the intercessors would like God to intercede in human affairs by promoting fossil fuels and eliminating such abominations as the use of women’s bathrooms by transgender women.
Is God listening? Hard to say. I’d like to think he/she/it/them chooses his spots with judiciousness and care. Peace on earth? Yes. Angelic reinforcement from Africa? She’ll get back to you on that.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.