Former President Donald Trump on Sunday delivered a Christmas greeting to a Dallas church that was part-spiritual, part-political, telling members that "dark clouds" are "hanging over our country" but adding that Jesus is the "ultimate source of our strength and our hope."
Trump spoke for roughly 10 minutes to members of First Baptist Church in Dallas following a sermon by Pastor Robert Jeffress, who endorsed Trump in 2016 and was an outspoken defender of the Trump administration.
The former president continually hinted at a potential run for president in 2024 – which, if successful, would make him only the second president to serve non-consecutive terms. (He would join Grover Cleveland, the nation's 22nd and 24th president.)
"We will come back bigger and better and stronger than ever before," he said. "I'm telling you that. We won't let this happen. We won't let it happen."
Trump quoted Scripture and discussed the influence of Christianity on America.
"An angel of the Lord appeared to humble shepherds and proclaimed the reason for our Christmas joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord," he said.
"... Our country needs a savior right now, and our country has a Savior. And that's not me – that's somebody much higher up than me, much higher up. … The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ forever changed the world. It's impossible to think of the life of our own country without the influence of His example, and of His teachings. Our miraculous founding, overcoming Civil War, abolishing slavery, defeating communism and fascism, reaching boundless heights of science and discovery. … The United States ultimately becoming a truly great nation, and we're going to keep it that way. We're going to keep it that way. We're not going to let it go.
"... But none of this could have ever happened without Jesus Christ, and His followers and His church – none of it. And we have to remember that Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of our strength and of our hope."
Trump read his prepared text but noted that he was going off-script, saying he wanted to "speak from the heart." Presumably, his off-script comments included politics.
"We're in trouble. I think our nation's in great trouble," he said at the beginning of his remarks. "I don't think we've ever had a time like this with what happened in Afghanistan the way that was done so badly. And you look at the borders, and you look at the inflation, which is going to rip our country to pieces. We had no inflation, we had oil – much of it coming from Texas. We even filled up the strategic reserves. For decades and decades, they were empty and getting lower all the time. … But I will say that there's a lot of clouds hanging over our country right now – very dark clouds."
Trump also discussed crime, saying, "We have to give the police their authority back, and we have to give them their dignity back."
His concluding words also focused on politics.
"We have an incredible country. It will be more incredible in years to come," he said. "We will do what has to be done to make America great again. We are going to make America great again. We are never going to forget that message. … It's America first – and make America great again, and we will do it."
Trump received a standing ovation before and after the speech.
The inclusion of politics, though, ignited a debate on social media.
"Partisan politics was grievously inserted into the ministry of First Baptist Dallas today," said Ray Ortlund of Renewal Ministries. "Galatians 2:11-21 addresses this. It is serious. Gospel doctrine is denied when gospel culture is violated. May we always be able to say, with Paul, 'I do not nullify the grace of God.'"
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Douglas P. DeFelice/Stringer
Video courtesy: First Baptist Dallas
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.