The Passion of Ken Paxton
Next week, the Texas Senate will start the impeachment trial of state Attorney General Ken Paxton after allegations he accepted bribes, abused his power to target a charity and attack a whistleblower, and used his office to benefit himself, a friend, and a mistress. Sixty of his fellow Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach him in May, leading to an overwhelming 121-23 vote. However, he still enjoys support from significant GOP figures like former President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. And some churches are still backing Paxton.
During an Aug. 9 service at New Beginnings Church, a nondenominational megachurch in a Dallas suburb, a county constable declared while in uniform that Paxton and Trump are being attacked by the devil with impeachment and indictments: “How many people are watching Trump right now, right? Do you think that’s God punishing him for that? He’s standing up for righteousness. We have an attorney general doing the same thing, and it has woken up the devil.”
The constable then asked the congregation to stand and pray for Paxton and show faith that “he’s coming through this in victory.”
“Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for the calling that you put on our attorney general,” the constable prayed. “Father, make sure that he understands that he’s not alone in this and we’re all fighting with him, we’re standing with him. And we’re not going to just passively sit back and watch this country go down the tubes, Father. We’re standing with you because you have set this country apart. … Father, we just thank you for what you’re doing for him. We thank you for the protection and the armor you put on him. And, Father, we just pray in the spirit, we battle every demon and everything that is bound up in that legislature that came after him, we just cast all that down in Jesus’s name.”
Paxton had actually been advertised to speak during the service, but Rev. Troy Jackson explained that a scheduling conflict had arisen so Paxton would come in the future. Jackson, one of the pastors at the church, is also a regional director for the Republican Party of Texas. He’s been leading a series at the church on “biblical citizenship,” which brought guest speakers like Allan West (a former U.S. representative and former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas) and an activist who’s pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. With Paxton not able to attend, Jackson instead preached on “the seven mountains of influence,” during which he took multiple shots at Democrats and why Christians shouldn’t vote for them.
Despite the show of support at the Dallas megachurch, the Houston Chronicle noted this week that Paxton’s “support from Christian conservatives — long the most devoted part of his base — may be fraying in the lead-up to his impeachment trial.” In particular, the allegations of an affair seem to have some Christians reconsidering their support for Paxton, though others in the article even explained that away. Paxton’s wife Angela is a Republican state senator and thus will be one of the jury members for his upcoming impeachment trial.
“Thankfully, we have a God of forgiveness when there’s repentance. And in every indication right now, that all occurred with Ken and Angela,” Rev. Dave Welch, a Pentecostal minister who founded and leads the Texas Pastor Council, told the Chronicle. “If there had not been, and if there was a breakdown of the marriage, if there was no correction or repentance of that, I think that would have affected the support.”
A poll in June after the impeachment vote found that most Texans support the effort to remove Paxton from office, but fundamentalist Christians did so at rates half that of Texans who aren’t Christians. And although Paxton enjoys more support from conservative Christians than other Texans, the same poll also shows his approval rating slipping even among this important population.
All of this raises the moral stakes ahead of next week’s impeachment trial that could see Paxton officially removed from the office he’s held since 2015. Paxton brings a long record of scandals and allegations that predate the behaviors that led to his impeachment. And through it all, he’s continued to bill himself as a Christian leader. So this issue of A Public Witness heads deep into the heart of Texas to review the saga of Paxton and what this teaches us about Christian engagement in politics.