On Christmas Eve, Donald and Melania Trump attended an evangelical Southern Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. The Family Church, which is surrounded by the campus of evangelical Palm Beach Atlantic University, appears to be a mainstream evangelical megachurch. Its pastor, Jimmy Scroggins, appears to be a Southern Baptist of the Al Mohler variety He holds a Ph.D from Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and worked as the Dean of Boyce College, Southern Seminary’s undergraduate wing.
In the past, the Trumps have attended Christmas Eve services at The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea (Episcopal) in Palm Beach. According to USA Today: “Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a towering Gothic revival style church surrounded by a courtyard and lavish gardens, has long championed liberal and social justice causes. The church was among the first to conduct gay marriages and has condemned the administration’s decision to reduce the number of refugees and allow states and local governments to reject refugees.”
It is also worth noting that Donald and Melania were married at The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. Barron Trump was baptized at the church.
I can’t say with any degree of certainty why the Trumps decided to attend services at The Family Church on Christmas Eve. Maybe they prefer a more contemporary worship style over a traditional Episcopalian service. Maybe they prefer conservative evangelical theology over the liberal theology of the Protestant mainline. Maybe they just wanted to try something different this year.
But it is hard not to be skeptical about the Trumps’ choice of church. It is hard not to see his attendance at The Family Church as a way to strengthen his support among evangelical voters in the wake of the recent Christianity Today editorial calling for his removal. I imagine that Donald Trump didn’t even know that The Family Church existed before he became president. Call me a cynic, but Trump attended this church for political reasons. His evangelical base took a huge hit last week. He needs to do everything possible to keep it strong as we approach November 2020.
And what about The Family Church? I don’t know if Pastor Scroggins is a Trump supporter. Pastor Scroggins does not seem like the kind of guy who wants to inject political controversy into his church on Christmas Eve. I am not sure why his congregation applauded when Trump entered the service and sat in the third row. After all, Christmas Eve is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, not the President of the United States.
There was probably nothing Pastor Scroggins could do about Trump’s arrival. Evangelical churches are open to all people–even an impeached President. I pray that Trump heard something in this service that touched his heart and prompted him to be a better person. Indeed, the message of Christmas is a message to sinners in need of redemption.
But it is also important to realize that The Family Church was used by the Trump administration for political purposes. The public story coming out of The Family Church on Christmas Eve was not the Incarnation, it was the arrival of a man who too many evangelicals have embraced as a political savior.