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Religion and Power – Esau’s Trade

September 5, 2021

Rev. Billy Graham with Pres. Bill Clinton, Source (PD as work product of federal govt.)

What we term the “Christian Right” is not now – nor was it ever – a religion (not even a political movement derived from a single religious group).

History of Christian Right

The Christian Right developed in response to many factors:  growing theological dispute in the seminaries; the teaching of evolutionary theory in the public schools; the threat of Communism; and the massive cultural changes of the 1960s [1].

The evangelist, Billy Graham, was among the first to court the political elite, beginning with Pres. Harry Truman.  Billy Graham won millions for Christ.  But his allegiance to Pres. Richard Nixon severely tarnished Graham’s image [2].

Billy Graham’s mantle was assumed by Jerry Falwell.  Gradually a packaged Christian response came to be articulated by Falwell, Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, and others.  In the process, Christianity was politicized, weaponized, and used to divide.

Meanwhile, revivalism became big business – providing the astonishing wealth of such religious leaders as Benny Hinn, Rick Warren, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, Joseph Prince, Joel Osteen, and Paula White [3][4][5].

Most recently, evangelical support for Pres. Donald Trump has been unswerving.  But it has created rifts among Christians, themselves [6].

Worldly v. Biblical Goals

Unfortunately, the tenets of the Christian Right are not all biblically grounded.

Initially, opposition to desegregation was recast as a dispute over religious freedom.  An emphasis on laissez faire capitalism has since corrupted much of the underlying belief system.

Esau’s Trade

As citizens, Christians have a right to enter the political arena.  But faith and politics are not moral equivalents.

“As Christians, it is our privilege to follow in the footsteps of our Lord.  Those lead us to Calvary, not the White House.  ‘For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Matthew 16: 26).

For those who do not know the biblical story, two brothers, Jacob and Esau, vied for the inheritance from their father, Isaac.  Returning ravenous from the hunt, the elder Esau, properly entitled to the inheritance, thoughtlessly gave up his right to it in exchange for a bowl of stew.  Like Esau (Genesis 25: 29-34), the Christian Right traded its rich spiritual heritage for the mere ‘stew’ of political power.

Whatever the motivation, this was a bad trade:  the eternal for the ephemeral.  A course correction urgently needs to be made before it is too late [Citations omitted].”

–Excerpt from An Evangelical on the Left, Copyright © 2007 Anna Waldherr.  All rights reserved.

The prophets spoke truth to power.  They did not seek out power for themselves.

[1]  Politico Magazine, “The Real Origins of the Religious Right” by Randall Balmer, 5/27/14,

[2]  PBS, American Experience, “Billy Graham”, Season 33, Episode 5,

[3]  Huffington Post, “The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel:  Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer” by Rick Henderson, 8/29/17,

[4]  Craig Greenfield, “5 Sure Signs You’ve Been Hoodwinked by the ‘Prosperity Gospel'”, 7/8/17,

[5]  The Gospel Coalition, “9 Things You Should Know About Prosperity Gospel Preacher Paula White” by Joe Carter, 10/15/19, ttps://

[6]  The Atlantic, “The Political Gains and Lost Faith of Evangelical Identity”, 5/20/21,


  1. A Christian leader who survived the Rwandan genocide used the metaphor of a fire for the tension between Church and State. It provides warmth in the cold, but come too close and you get burnt. Almost a million lives lost. But being so slow to learn, the cycle of getting burnt continues. Seemingly all over the world.

    Thanks for your informative and stimulating post, Anna. I love the contrast between the White House and Calvary.

  2. A very interesting report, thank you very much for the careful work. I wish you the best, my friend Anna, Marie

    • You are always so kind to me, dear friend. I wish you everything good. Thank you for stopping by, Marie. ❤

  3. Very informative

  4. “The prophets spoke truth to power. They did not seek out power for themselves.”
    What a great way to put it Anna.
    The true follower of Jesus seeks the kingdom of God first where their citizenship lies. Only then can the be unwavering and fearless in speaking the “Truth” wherever they are.

    • We are inclined to forget that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Our egos should not take precedence over that.

  5. Allan Halton permalink

    The end result of courting the favour of those with political power is a weak Gospel:
    Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water…” (Isa 1:22) 

  6. A really excellent article.

  7. You wrote: “But faith and politics are not moral equivalents.”
    I would say they are not even on speaking terms. We are sojourners here, citizens of a spiritual city. Seeking influence in the world lowers our eyes from the eternal to the ephemeral. A very bad trade, indeed.

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  1. Religion and Power – Esau’s Trade – Tonya LaLonde

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