A week ahead of the Iowa Republican caucuses, a new video depicting former president Donald Trump as a messianic figure caused a stir among the Iowa evangelical community.
The video, called “God Made Trump,” was shared by the former president on his Truth Social account Friday morning. In the video, a narrator paraphrases the Bible while describing Trump as “a man who cares for the flock” and “a shepherd to mankind who won’t ever leave nor forsake them.”
“I find it absolutely sickening, period,” said Michael Demastus, pastor of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. “Trump is not the Messiah.”
The video begins as a parody of Paul Harvey’s famous “So God Made a Farmer” speech, opening with a shot of the earth. A narrator says, “And on June 14, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker,’ so God gave us Trump.” A similar video about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis circulated in 2022.
The Trump video includes repeated religious references and quotations from the Bible. A narrator describes Trump as one who “follow(s) the path and remain(s) strong in faith.” He paraphrases Psalm 140 to describe the “fake news media” — with “their tongues as sharp as a serpents” and “the poison of vipers … on their lips” — and credits Trump with “finish(ing) a hard week’s work by attending church on Sunday.”
The video was created by Dilley Meme Team, a group of online content creators independent from the Trump campaign, though they work in close contact with it. The group — which calls itself Trump’s Online War Machine — has faced controversy for its vulgar and sexist content.
Demastus, who has called Trump “the most pro-life president we have ever had,” said he is not alone in his disgust of the new video. “Many other evangelical pastors find that video offensive,” he said.
Terry Amann, pastor of the Church of the Way in Des Moines, found the video distasteful. “Christians have no right to be offended by anything since Christ went to the cross totally innocent for us guilty sinners,” he said. “That being said, (the video) demeans Christianity, Trump and the people who made it. It says a lot about the people around Trump and their ‘worldly’ understanding of Christianity.”
Iowa Republicans officially kick off the 2024 election Monday, when they cast votes in the state party’s caucuses. Winning over evangelicals is a requirement for winning the Iowa caucuses; in 2016, the last time there was a competitive Republican primary, more than 60% of Republican caucus participants were evangelicals.
Among evangelical voters, Trump is widely seen as the favorite. He received massive support from white conservative evangelicals in 2016 and 2020, and a new Deseret News/HarrisX poll finds that a majority of Republicans see Trump as a “person of faith.”
Evangelicals credit Trump for securing a conservative-majority Supreme Court which ended federal protections for abortion by striking down Roe v. Wade. In the Deseret/HarrisX poll, respondents said Trump is a person of faith because he “defends people of faith in the U.S.” and he “supports policies that focus on families.”
Some in Trump’s personal orbit dispute that he is a person of faith. Several of his former aides said Trump mocks evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints behind closed doors, according to The Atlantic. And during a comedic speech at the Alfalfa Club, Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, poked fun at his apparent religious illiteracy.
“I read that some of those classified documents they found in Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible,” Pence joked. “Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.”
Trump faces more than 90 criminal charges, including 34 related to a payment to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair.
But for many evangelical voters, it’s Trump’s record — not his personal life — that are key when selecting a president: “We’re not electing a pastor,” many say. Trump’s policies on social issues, like abortion and religious liberty, are appealing to many evangelicals. But after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, Trump has seemed to soften on his abortion stance, a shift that has enraged many of his conservative supporters.
Nonetheless, Trump maintains a comfortable lead in polling ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Trump sits near 50%, while his closest challengers — Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley — hover in the upper teens. Come caucus night, state party leadership expects record turnout, and it is likely a majority of participants will be evangelical Christians.
Amann and Demastus have expressed support for Trump in the past, but this election cycle, they are not endorsing any candidate. Both are part of Faith Wins, a nationwide cohort of pastors focused on training and encouraging Christians to participate in elections. While Faith Wins pastors will be active up to Caucus Day, leading “caucus training” sessions and encouraging their congregants to get out to vote, they are maintaining public neutrality toward the candidates.
“I haven’t endorsed a candidate,” Demastus said. “But the one thing I’m happy about is I don’t have to explain away the awful stuff a candidate is sharing.”