The King Cyrus ‘anointing’ of Trump
Does the Bible point to the leader of the USA as God’s special choice?
One month before the 2016 United States presidential election, the charismatic leader Lance Wallnau published an opinion piece, “Why I Believe Trump Is the Prophesied President.” To make his case for the controversial GOP candidate, Wallnau offered several Republican political points, noted the impression that Trump had personally left with him, and invoked Scripture, specifically an Old Testament royal.
“From my perspective, there is a Cyrus anointing on Trump,” wrote Wallnau. “I predicted his nomination, and I believe he is the chaos candidate set apart to navigate us through the chaos that is coming to America. I think America is due for a shaking regardless of who is in office. I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus.”
Some of Trump’s loudest supporters have … invoked a Gentile ruler from the sixth-century BC.
Historically, American Christian conservative leaders have largely championed presidential candidates whose character they could laud and whose policies aligned with their own political convictions. (Indeed, Trump was not the first pick for most of those who later backed him, among them Charisma magazine publisher and founder Steve Strang. Now the author of God and Donald Trump, a book that looks at whether there was a “supernatural element” involved in the president’s victory, Strang originally threw his support behind Texas senator Ted Cruz in an editorial entitled “Why Would Any Christian Back Trump When Ted Cruz Is in the Race?”)
But when explaining their shift in support for first a celebrity whose divorces and infidelity have made national news, who has made flippant remarks about casually sexually assaulting women, and whose disparaging comments about minorities have been widely condemned as racist, some of his loudest supporters have offered a different logic. They have invoked a Gentile ruler from the sixth-century BC.
Cyrus the Great was a Persian king who took over and expanded the Babylonian Empire. Despite his short reign – he was only in power from 539-530 BC, Cyrus had a significant impact on the Jewish exiles who had been taken into captivity in Babylon. He granted the community the freedom to return to the Promised Land and rebuild their temple. Mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible, Isaiah 45:1 refers to him as God’s “anointed.” It’s this title that many have seized upon.
“[God] makes that very clear in the Bible where he tells us that he raises up kings and destroys kingdoms,” the Australian-born creationist Ken Ham told Religion News Service in 2017. “He even calls a pagan king, Cyrus, his anointed, or his servant to do the things that he wants him to do.”
These metaphors have turned up in a recent film, The Trump Prophecy, and last year from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I want to tell you that the Jewish people have a long memory, so we remember the proclamation of the great king, Cyrus the Great, Persian king 2500 years ago,” Netanyahu said in the wake of the US announcing it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “He proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon could come back and rebuild our Temple in Jerusalem … We remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr President, this will be remembered by our people through the ages.” (While Trump himself has yet to comment on these parallels, for his work in establishing the modern-day state of Israel, US President Harry Truman famously declared “I am Cyrus.”)
Of the evangelical leaders who have linked Cyrus and Trump, such as Wallnau, many come from charismatic backgrounds. Several from this world who serve as Trump’s faith advisers include South Carolina pastor Mark Burns, pastor and author Jentezen Franklin, and Texas ministers Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. It’s this group of “hardcore true believers” in Trump that the metaphor probably carries most resonance, says Kristin Du Mez, a historian at Calvin College, Michigan.
“There is a much wider group of more mainstream evangelicals who wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to that rhetoric and hardcore prophecy type of language but who are going to sympathise with the underlying values or motivation,” said Du Mez.
“If the strongman doesn’t follow traditional Christian virtues, so be it …” – Kristin Du Mez
During his election and presidency, white evangelicals have consistently been Trump’s loudest and most faithful supporters. Of those who voted, 81 per cent of them cast their ballots for the 45th president. In a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 60 per cent of white evangelical Protestants said they would “definitely” consider re-electing him.
“I’ve been interested in seeing how many evangelicals are drawn to Trump, whether you call him a ‘Cyrus’ or not, as a strongman, as a leader whose own personal values and personal faith don’t really matter very much. In fact, whose lack of traditional values actually make him a better leader because the threats are so great or the fears are so great,” said Du Mez.
For some, the Obama administration offered a good taste of what evangelicals had to fear. Many in the evangelical community sharply disagreed with the Supreme Court’s affirmation of same-sex marriage and federal mandates that offered protections for transgender students seeking to use their preferred bathroom and required employers to offer contraception to employees and protections. Invoking Cyrus to talk about the political climate is a way of signalling just how significant the stakes are for American evangelicals, according to Du Mez.
“Frankly many of American evangelicals wonder if traditional Christianity is up to the task because the threat is so dire,” she said. “That’s why they want a strongman and if the strongman doesn’t follow traditional Christian virtues so be it, because they really need a fighter right now.”
The white evangelical fervour for Trump reminds Du Mez of their support for the 40th US president, Ronald Reagan. An actor who went on to serve as the governor of California before serving two terms in the White House, Reagan today is one of the country’s most popular recent former presidents.
“If you look at the evangelical embrace of someone like Ronald Reagan, he was divorced, his faith was a little bit iffy, his moral values did not fully align and his political values didn’t either, but they came to embrace him in a somewhat similar way,” said Du Mez. “A saviour figure, a strong man, a masculine man who could lead this nation, who could stand up.”
Reagan beat a Southern Baptist and Democrat, Jimmy Carter, for the presidency in 1980.
“The fact that [Reagan] wasn’t upstanding evangelical, they knew he was the right guy for the job,” said Du Mez.
“It’s the idea that it’s not always going to be the person who shares our values that’s going to be the best defender of these values.”
“Some American pastors were using biblical texts about Cyrus to declare confidently that President Trump’s election was God’s answer for a nation off course.” – Daniel Block
Old Testament scholar Daniel Block examined the arguments for comparing Trump to Cyrus in a 2018 piece for Christianity Today.
“In both situations, an outsider rose to the supreme political position in the state. Cyrus was a Persian and a foreigner to Babylonian politics,” wrote Block. “A career businessman and entertainer, Trump’s rise involved eliminating a series of establishment Republican candidates before defeating the establishment Democratic candidate.”
Further, Cyrus arrived on the scene as a sort of saviour figure, not only for the Jews but also for the Babylonian population, said Block.
“Trump’s rhetoric recalls Cyrus’s promise to restore the proper worship of (the local deity) Marduk and to liberate the citizenry from the exploitation and abuse they had previously suffered,” he wrote.
But the parallels mostly end there. For starters, Trump isn’t an emperor nor inheriting an empire and hasn’t authorised any reconstruction of the temple. And while the Bible gives readers a divine context for Cyrus’s actions, there also aren’t contemporary prophets or historians who can speak for God in the way that Isaiah or Ezra did, said Block.
“Nevertheless, within weeks of the presidential election, some American pastors were using biblical texts about Cyrus to declare confidently that President Trump’s election was God’s answer for a nation off course,” he wrote.
Block warned: “Christians’ eagerness to understand God’s will in real time can cause them to overlook fundamental biblical and divine principles.”
Morgan Lee is the host of current events podcast Quick to Listen.