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  1. Opinion

Tampa Bay knows Trump’s religious adviser too well | Column

Paula White has plenty in common with the president, Daniel Ruth writes.
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published Nov. 8

Let’s be honest. When it comes to religious conviction, President Donald Trump makes Vladimir Lenin look more observant than Pope Francis.

So should anyone be surprised that in his continuing efforts to woo America’s evangelical community, Trump has brought Florida-based television preacher Paula White into his administration to advise his Faith and Opportunity (emphasis on “Opportunity”) Initiative.

What would Jesus do? A well-timed forehead slap, perhaps?

In this Aug. 27, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump smiles as pastor Paula White prepares to lead the room in prayer, during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House. [ALEX BRANDON | Associated Press]

Locals hereabout will recall White’s time in Tampa where she served as co-pastor, along with her now former husband Randy White, of the Without Walls International Church.

It was not just a church without walls. It was also without much of a bookkeeper. The ministry eventually declared bankruptcy, despite hauling in as much as $150 million between 2004 to 2006. Salvation doesn’t come cheap.

How do you blow through $150 million in alms? God only knows. And maybe the IRS.

Since departing from Without Walls a few years ago, White has been the senior pastor of City of Destiny near Orlando, offering the noted theologian an opportunity to sermonize her prosperity gospel to a whole flock of worshipers.

Along with other gospel grifters such as Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and T.D. Jakes, White is a loyal acolyte of prosperity theology, which holds God wants his faithful to achieve wealth and health.

So much for: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Little wonder that the High Priest of Palm Beach tapped White to assist him in convincing his evangelical lambs he really is a very prayerful chap.

White will have her work cut out for her in establishing Trump’s biblical bona fides. After all, this is a thrice-married president who has bragged about his affairs, engaged in a sexual dalliance with a porn star, told an estimated 13,435 lies and misleading statements counted so far as of October by the Washington Post, played footsie with all manner of despots, stabbed Kurdish allies in the back, coddled white supremacists, separated families at the border and caged toddlers. What some people won’t do for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite having all the moral comportment of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Trump was embraced by the evangelical wing of the Republican Party in 2016, largely on the candidate’s professed opposition to abortion and a promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

That was very nice, many of these evangelicals who so fervently defend the sanctity of life don’t seem to give a sackcloth or an ash about caring for all these children after they are born when it comes to health care, or education, or gun violence. And there was precious little gnashing of teeth over defending family values as immigrant families were torn asunder simply for seeking a better life in the United States.

So much for: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Clearly, White has the ideal pastoral pedigree to become Trump’s in-house Mother Teresa of tithing. She also has been around the marital block three times. She retreats to her own mansion for meditation. And best of all, she owns an apartment in one of Trump’s pricey New York properties. She is not just a White House confidant. She’s a customer, too. Perfect.

You’re probably thinking: Wait a minute. Across this vast land, filled with countless thoughtful, committed, compassionate men and women of deep, abiding spirituality representing an array of religious convictions, the very best Trump could come up with in selecting his Faith and Opportunity Initiative adviser was someone who regards the Good Book as little more than a stock prospectus? Isn’t Jimmy Carter available?

The New York Times noted White might incur a tax problem if she does not fully divest herself from City of Destiny, since mingling her White House political work while still involved in the Orlando operation could threaten the church’s tax exempt status.

Apparently White will serve Trump as an unpaid adviser, which does seem awfully charitable. Still, forgive the sin of cynicism.

After a stint as Trump’s soul whisperer, it is entirely likely White will be able to parlay her White House penance into lucrative book deals, television contracts and enhanced speaking fees. Maybe Vladimir Putin will call for some spiritual guidance. Rocket man, too.

For blessed are the opportunists, for theirs is the kingdom of cha-ching.

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