Paula White, a controversial pastor, will be involved in dispensing religious advice on key policies and initiatives.
With her layered blonde hair and her penchant for bright dresses, televangelist Paula White bears more than a passing resemblance to Kellyanne Conway, one of Donald Trump’s closest advisors.
But while Conway is focussed on crafting the political message of the president, White has a very different role. This week, she joins the White House and Trump’s personal staff as his “faith advisor”, dedicated to ensuring that the president’s religious message is conveyed to the public, too.
White was officially hired by Trump and the White House on 1 November, but she has worked with the president in an unofficial capacity for much longer. The pastor – she hails from the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, a non-denominational megachurch, and her brand of Christianity is called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ – was Trump’s point of call when he needed religious advice on the 2016 presidential campaign, and the pair have been friends for years before that.
Now, she heads up Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a group that aims to ensure that government messaging is given a religious spin, particularly when conveyed to constituents in the ramp up to the 2020 presidential race.
But who is Paula White? And why are people unhappy at her appointment?
Who is Paula White?
Married three times and based out of Florida, Paula White is – to quote the New York Times – “a quintessentially Trump figure”. She rose to fame as a television preacher after converting to Christianity in 1984 and opening a small church in Tampa, Florida that eventually grew to 20,000 members, one of the biggest megachurches in the US at the time. Her gospel, dubbed ‘Prosperity Gospel’ hinges on religion and God helping followers to find wealth, health and a bountiful, verdant life.
Thanks to her success on television, White soon became a pastor to the stars – Michael Jackson and Tyra Banks have all called on her to minister to them. (White actually serves as Banks’ life coach as well as personal pastor.) But her most famous client of all is the current president of the US.
White’s work frequently invokes God when talking about Trump. She believes that it was God’s divine plan to assign her to be Trump’s spiritual advisor. She believes that, since assuming the office of president, God walks with Trump in the White House. There are “consequences from God for those who don’t stand with the president”, according to White, and anyone who goes against him is “fighting the hand of God”.
What is the controversy around Paula White?
The first big problem with Paula White is that she is controversial even within Christian circles. The Reverend William J Barber II has called her particular “so-called prosperity gospel… a false gospel.”
“It is an attempt to interpret the gospel to be primarily about personal wealth and personal power, which is contrary to the theology of Jesus, where the good news was always focused on caring for the poor, the least of these, the stranger, the sick,” he added to the New York Times.
But even more concerning, though, is this move towards “religious leaders weaponising faith for politics”, as The Orlando Sentinel wrote this week regarding her controversial appointment.
As The Week put it: “A shameless religious grifter is a perfect fit for this presidency, an administration built on giving desperate people false hope for personal gain.”
What will Paula White do at the White House?
Ostensibly, in heading up the Faith and Opportunity Initiative, White will be involved in advising on the religious elements of key policies and initiatives.
But it’s not hard to notice that White has been hired in the run up to the 2020 presidential elections, a time in which Trump is looking to “shore up his evangelical base”, as the New York Times put it. White, as a phenomenally successful televangelist, is perfectly placed to speak to the far-right Christian groups that Trump is hoping to mobilise for re-election.
She’s also going to continue in her role as Trump’s personal pastor, one that she has held for several years now. At a rally in June, White delivered a sermon that sought to draw links between Trump’s presidency and the divine.
“Let every demonic network that has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken, let it be torn down in the name of Jesus,” she said at the rally.
“I declare that President Trump will overcome every strategy from hell and every strategy from the enemy… I secure his calling, I secure his purpose, I secure his family, and we secure victory in the name which is above every name … the name of Jesus Christ.”