The Blasphemy of Comparing Trump to Jesus Christ

6 minute read
Empsall is a priest in the Episcopal Church and the executive director of Faithful America. He holds a Masters of Divinity and a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University

Before and after Donald Trump’s historic indictment and arraignment, countless MAGA Republican provocateurs have been noting the Holy Week timing and blasphemously comparing Trump to Jesus.

“As Christ was crucified, and then rose again on the 3rd day, so too will Donald Trump,” tweeted one right-wing lawyer known for representing Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Other influencers making the comparison include Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, TPUSA Faith founder Charlie Kirk, and even Trump’s own attorney. Trump, himself, framed his arrest as an attack on Christians in an “emergency prayer call” on Tuesday, April 4, with televangelist and longtime aide Paula White-Cain, attorney Rudy Giuliani, and MAGA worship leader Sean Feucht.

Any comparison between Trump and Christ is clearly heretical and inappropriate. However, these extremist voices are right about one thing: There is, indeed, a parallel between Donald Trump’s arrest and Holy Week. But it’s not between Trump and Jesus—it’s between MAGA leaders and Pontius Pilate, the brutal Roman governor who ordered Christ’s crucifixion.

Not only would Jesus never pay anyone hush money to change the outcome of an election, he wasn’t even a politician. When the devil tempted Christ with earthly authority, he flatly refused to take it. Neither did Jesus support political violence the way Trump delights in playing Jan. 6 footage at his rallies. In fact, when the disciples drew weapons to prevent Jesus’s arrest, he told them, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.”

Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, was a regional Roman dictator known not only for his cruelty, but also for his alliance with local religious leaders. The high priests were eager to collude with the governor, including to crucify Jesus, because it allowed them to keep their status and personal freedom. In turn, Pilate benefited by having allies who could keep his subjects in line and thus keep him in power. It was a great deal for everyone—everyone but the people.

Two millennia later, a nearly identical bond has been forged between conservative American Christians and MAGA Republican politicians like Trump, Greene, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Under the blessing of conspiracy-theory preachers like Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Paula White-Cain, these politicians use and abuse religious imagery to create a culture where disagreeing with them is no longer seen as civic discourse, but as an act of blasphemy. To them, indicting a corrupt Republican politician like Trump isn’t an example of a healthy democracy, but a demonic attack on a holy figure anointed by God.

Read more: The Historic—and Entirely Predictable—Indictment of Donald Trump

This is part of what academic scholars and Christian activists alike mean by the term “Christian nationalism:” The heretical merging of American and far-right Christian identities to proclaim that only conservative Christians count as “true Americans,” and that only right-wing Republicans can be considered true Christians. This is an authoritarian political ideology that seeks to rewrite colonial history, erase the separation of church and state, and declare America to be a theocratic “Christian nation” where only conservative Christians hold power and other communities lose their legal rights.

In such a system, supporting Trump’s indictment equals opposing God. One recent example of this melding of religion and “us-vs-them” political fascism was Trump’s March campaign rally in Waco, which was punctuated by a hymn-like treatment of the National Anthem sung by the so-called J6 Choir, blessings from Christian-nationalist pastor and court evangelical Robert Jeffress, and Trump’s own angry insistence that Christians are being persecuted by the FBI.

Co-opting religion for power isn’t just blasphemous; it’s also dangerous, repeatedly leading to real-world violence. The most obvious such moment is, of course, the use of religious language and symbols before and during the failed Jan. 6 insurrection. Last year, MAGA adherents—operating in the same echo chambers—again took aim at the FBI, IRS, and even the National Archives. Trump himself has all but called for people to take up arms in response to his indictment, repeatedly telling his supporters “They’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you.”

Unfortunately, leaders on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to call out Christian nationalism, all but omitting it from last year’s Jan. 6 committee report despite clear evidence that the insurrection was largely fueled by the dangerous political ideology. Perhaps the committee was afraid of being seen as anti-Christian—but the truth is that Christian nationalism’s biggest critics are in fact Christian leaders like Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Lutheran Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, as well as Christian organizations like Faithful America, Red Letter Christians, Vote Common Good, Sojourners, and the aptly named Christians Against Christian Nationalism.

Similarly, far too many moderate, progressive, and apolitical pastors decline to acknowledge or speak out against the merger of MAGA and religion, whether it is because they misunderstand the separation of church and state, or because they are afraid of losing church members. But for all their attempts to stay out of the fray, these pastors are sending an unintended yet devastatingly dangerous message. When prominent far-right televangelists and pastors invoke Jesus’s name to support Trump’s authoritarianism or to oppose bringing him to justice—and when Donald Trump uses prayer calls to falsely tell Christians that we are under attack and he is our only defender—the silence from the rest of our complicit pulpits can lead Americans to believe the Church takes the same position. Silence is acceptance.

It is time to not just raise but sustain a loud prophetic voice. This Holy Week, let us take up our crosses and love our neighbors by standing up to those brutal strongmen who would destroy both democracy and the church in Jesus’ name.

Where Christian nationalism calls for violence, let Christians call for peace. Where QAnon quotes Jesus to platform misinformation, let us remind them Jesus said the truth shall set you free. When we are told that a Christo-fascist politician automatically becomes our savior if they’re coincidentally arrested during Holy Week, let us, instead, insist that equality and justice demand that no one is above the law. And where Trump bellows for anger and discrimination, let us work to love our neighbors, no exceptions.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.