The same weekend Ron DeSantis released a campaign video saying he had been sent to Florida directly by God on the eighth day of creation, a prominent Southern Baptist pastor offered an invocation at a DeSantis campaign rally and then tweeted a video of it with the assessment: “God has blessed the state of Florida by placing him in this office as his (God’s) servant for our good.”
While DeSantis is hugely popular with his evangelical Christian base, he has presided over some of the most cruel political and social policies in the state’s history, from blocking efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, to targeting transgender and gay children, to kidnapping immigrants from another state and shipping them to a third state as an act of political theater.
David Lurie, writing for the Daily Beast, said of the Florida governor: “What has differentiated DeSantis from others in the GOP has not been so much his policy positions, but, rather, the extent to which cruelty and humiliation have been central to his governance and political activities.”
Jackie Calmes, writing for the Los Angeles Times, noted: “Florida’s governor has been dubbed ‘Donald Trump with brains’ so often by other Republicans, and the journalists who quote them, that he might as well be identified as Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Brains). But what about a heart? Well, no need for DeSantis to turn Tin Man and go looking for one. As he seeks reelection on Nov. 8, en route perhaps to a presidential run, it happens that a heart isn’t required in the Republican Party. Indeed, it’s discouraged.”
The Calmes column focuses on the videotaped arrests of nearly 20 Floridians for alleged illegal voting. She explains: “All were former felons who thought they’d been cleared to vote and had voter-registration cards issued by the state to prove it.”
“The scenes are heartbreaking — those arrested are blindsided at their homes, stricken, confused. Yet that cruelty is the point for DeSantis and his ilk,” Calmes wrote. “They want to prove themselves enforcers against the right’s perceived threats, politicians who will do anything and everything to ‘own the libs.’”
That also has been the character of Florida pastor Tom Ascol, de facto leader of the most conservative wing of the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Ascol ran for SBC president last year and lost — but not by as large a margin as one might imagine for a man who wants to expel from the SBC any church that doesn’t toe the narrow theological line of him and his younger TheoBros.
This is the man who showed up at a weekend DeSantis rally — which one is not made clear — to offer an invocation that in itself was an establishment of religion, something forbidden of government officials by the First Amendment.
The words of Ascol’s prayer associated the DeSantis campaign and therefore the state of Florida as part of the sectarian domain of evangelical Christianity.
“Our Father, we bow to you tonight because you and you alone are the true and living God,” Ascol intoned as he stood before a massive American flag for a state gubernatorial rally. “You’re the one who’s created all things and even now through your Son you uphold the universe by the word of his power. Everything and everyone belongs to you. All that we have, all that we are is because of you. You are sovereign. You rule and overrule in all the affairs of this world.”
The Baptist pastor noted of the God to whom he was praying — “you always do what is right and good. We thank you for your great love for people whom you have made in your own image.”
No mention was made of the 82,541 Floridians who have died of COVID or the 48 Venezuelan immigrants DeSantis picked up in San Antonio, Texas, and dumped in Martha’s Vineyard — presumably also made in God’s image. Nor was mention made of DeSantis’ claim in his latest campaign video that he, alone, was made differently by God — on the eighth day of creation — for the purpose of saving Florida from disaster today.
Instead, Ascol thanked God for “the wisdom and the courage that you have given” to DeSantis.
Ascol did pray for DeSantis to be blessed by God, too: “Please watch over him and his family and protect them from evil. Encourage him with reminders that you are the one who has instituted civil government and you have called him to serve and placed him in his role as governor to do good for the people of Florida. Help him always to remember that he is first and foremost your servant. Empower him with good counsel and strength to fulfill your will in his responsibilities that go with the office. Help him to carry out his duties with joy and in the fear of the Lord, and deliver him from the fear of any man.”
Ascol closed his prayer by acknowledging it was offered “in the strong name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Christian nationalism has been defined as the merging of a particular kind of Christian faith with the political process — which is exactly what was on display in Ascol’s political rally prayer. But Ascol and millions of other evangelical Republicans do not see this as a problem.
To them, this is the way God has ordered the universe — apparently on the eighth day of creation.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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