For months, national media have been reporting on Donald Trump’s proposed “radical agenda” if elected to a second term in the White House. What’s conspicuously absent from the volumes of promises Trump has made is much reference to “religion” or “faith.”
These media alarms about what Trump intends to do if given the reins of power once again — from using the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies to firing thousands of federal employees deemed part of the “Deep State” — are drawn from three published sources: Trump’s own campaign website, his public speeches, and Project 2025, a coalition of Trumpian Republicans who are lining up executive actions, staffing and legislation to advance their cause quickly.
While the Trump campaign has attempted to put distance between their candidate and Project 2025, many of those involved were part of the Trump administration. Project 2025 also is spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank Trump relied upon to make judicial appointments.
Project 2025 says its goal is “to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the Administrative State.”
Project 2025 lists among its Advisory Board several faith-based conservative advocacy groups, include Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, First Liberty Institute and Liberty University.
Among its 800-page manifesto, Project 2025 uses the word “religion” in 12 instances, mainly protesting perceived discrimination against conservatives.
For example: “The Biden administration has been hostile to people of faith, especially those with traditional beliefs about marriage, gender and sexuality.”
And religious metaphors pop up in lines such as these: “’Cheap grace’ aptly describes the Left’s love affair with environmental extremism. Those who suffer most from the policies environmentalism would have us enact are the aged, poor and vulnerable. It is not a political cause, but a pseudo-religion meant to baptize liberals’ ruthless pursuit of absolute power in the holy water of environmental virtue.”
“It is not a political cause, but a pseudo-religion meant to baptize liberals’ ruthless pursuit of absolute power in the holy water of environmental virtue.
There’s a section on “pro-life” issues, and discussion of anti-abortion measures permeates various parts of the document but not from an explicit faith basis.
There’s one small section on religion that focuses on the need to “provide robust protections for religious employers. … The president should make clear via executive order that religious employers are free to run their businesses according to their religious beliefs, general nondiscrimination laws notwithstanding, and support participation of religious employees and employers as federal contractors and in federal activities and programs.”
The document has more to say about the word “religious,” especially as used in the phrase “religious liberty,” such as here: “Combating the Left’s aggressive attacks on life and religious liberty, and confronting ‘wokeism’ throughout the federal government.”
While claiming evangelical Christians in America are persecuted by the “woke” Left, the document speaks at great length about the need to protect religious minorities in other countries of the world.
The first of four promises made in the document is to “restore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children.” Here, the Heritage Foundation picks up the influence of Focus on the Family, which began as a Christian parenting resource and has become instead a conservative political advocacy network.
The document warns: “In many ways, the entire point of centralizing political power is to subvert the family. Its purpose is to replace people’s natural loves and loyalties with unnatural ones.” And: “So many of the problems government programs are designed to solve — but can’t — are ultimately problems created by the crisis of marriage and the family. The world has never seen a thriving, healthy, free and prosperous society where most children grow up without their married parents. If current trends continue, we are heading toward social implosion.”
It then lists a litany of ills allegedly promoted by liberalism that include pornography, Critical Race Theory and “gender ideology.”
“The next conservative president must make the institutions of American civil society hard targets for woke culture warriors.”
The document calls for the elimination of certain terms: “The next conservative president must make the institutions of American civil society hard targets for woke culture warriors. This starts with deleting the terms sexual orientation and gender identity, diversity, equity, and inclusion, gender, gender equality, gender equity, gender awareness, gender-sensitive, abortion, reproductive health, reproductive rights, and any other term used to deprive Americans of their First Amendment rights out of every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation that exists.”
Ultimately, Project 2025 sees not only the family but the church as key to reshaping the nation in its desired way: “The great challenge confronting a conservative president is the existential need for aggressive use of the vast powers of the executive branch to return power — including power currently held by the executive branch — to the American people. Success in meeting that challenge will require a rare combination of boldness and self-denial: boldness to bend or break the bureaucracy to the presidential will and self-denial to use the bureaucratic machine to send power away from Washington and back to America’s families, faith communities, local governments, and states.
What Trump has said
All the above are merely suggestions from an influential think tank that would have Trump’s ear if he were to regain power. But what has he said himself?
His campaign website — beyond the initial fundraising pitch — includes a section titled Agenda 47, because if reelected he would be the 47th president of the United States. If elected in 2024, Trump would join Grover Cleveland as the only other person elected to two nonconsecutive terms; Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president of the United States.
Amid dozens of policy statements and commentaries on the site — with headlines such as “The Russia-Ukraine War Would Have Never Happened Under President Trump” and “The Fake News Media is Stupid and Corrupt” — not one is about religion or faith.
However, he visits some of the same themes as Project 2025 by talking about gender and family and public education and Critical Race Theory. Among his pledges:
- “Cut federal funding for any school or program pushing Critical Race Theory, gender ideology or other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content on our children.”
- “Because the Marxism being taught in schools is aggressively hostile to Judeo-Christian teachings, aggressively pursue potential violations of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution.”
- “Create a new credentialing body to certify teachers who embrace patriotic values and understand that their job is not to indoctrinate children, but to educate them.”
- “Adopt a Parental Bill of Rights that includes complete curriculum transparency and a form of universal school choice.”
- “Revoke Joe Biden’s cruel policies on so-called ‘gender affirming care’ — a process that includes giving kids puberty blockers, mutating their physical appearance, and ultimately performing surgery on minor children.”
- “Sign a new executive order instructing every federal agency to cease all programs that promote the concept of sex and gender transition at any age.”
- “Support the creation of a private right of action for victims to sue doctors who have unforgivably performed these procedures on minor children.”
- “Direct the Department of Education to inform states and school districts that if any teacher or school official suggests to a child that they could be trapped in the wrong body, they will be faced with severe consequences, including potential Civil Rights violations for sex discrimination and the elimination of federal funding.”
- “As part of our new credentialing body for teachers, we will promote positive education about the nuclear family, the roles of mothers and fathers and celebrating rather than erasing the things that make men and women different and unique.”
- “Ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the U.S. government are male and female — and they are assigned at birth.”
What’s faith and what’s politics?
Unlike his 2016 campaign, when Trump explicitly appealed to evangelical Christian voters, he apparently does not have to be as explicit this time because that voting bloc has proved they will follow him anywhere.
Although his stated agenda if elected again would fail most any test for Christian ethics —in an interview with Univision, he said: “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say go down and indict them” — many of the things he promises to do correspond with the deepest desires of evangelical Christians.
For example, he appeals to the “law and order” mentality, as reported by CNN: “The former president has said he would require local law enforcement agencies to use the controversial police practice of stop-and-frisk in order to receive some Justice Department funding. He’s also suggested he would deploy the National Guard to cities dealing with high levels of crime.”
All the attention paid to gender, race and diversity issues also correlates well with evangelical voters.
A 2022 report from Pew Research Center found 87% of white evangelicals believe a person’s gender cannot be different from their sex assigned at birth — the highest share of any group holding that belief.
As reported by RNS and others, American evangelicals are heavily responsible for the nation’s emphasis on “law and order” and punitive justice.
But religiosity and politics seem to be measured on different scales.
A September Deseret News/HarrisX poll found most Republican voters (53%) believe Trump is more a person of faith than Mitt Romney (35%) or Joe Biden (23%) even though Romney is a famously known devout Mormon and Biden is a devout Catholic who has been called the most overtly religious president since Jimmy Carter.
Nearly half (44%) of Republicans and evangelical Protestants (42%) said Biden is definitely not a person of faith. More than twice as many evangelical Christians (42%) believe Biden is not a person of faith as say the same of Republican contender Vivek Ramaswamy, who is Hindu.
When evangelical Christians were asked whether a candidate’s faith makes them more likely to vote for that candidate, only Nikki Haley (35%) outpaced Trump (31%). What’s more: Among all Americans polled, Trump ranked the highest (22%) among candidates whose faith makes voters more likely to vote for him.
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