Leaders of religious conservative groups largely stood behind Donald Trump on Saturday, the day after vulgar sexual comments he made about women surfaced online.
…Most evangelical leaders did not condemn Trump, and instead pointed to an urgent need to prevent Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency, reshaping the Supreme Court and implementing liberal policies.
At the risk of providing superfluous commentary, it should always be emphasized that Trump did not just make “vulgar sexual comments about women” – he made vulgar comments in which he boasted about sexual assaults and attempting to have sex with a married woman. It is remarkable that while Republicans such as John McCain and Condoleezza Rice are keeping faith with their principles by repudiating Trump’s candidature, evangelical leaders who are supposed to “trust always in God” appear willing to make any compromise in return for worldly political influence.
At the neo-Pentecostal end of the Christian Right, there is a particular problem in that the movement’s leaders have announced that God has “anointed” Trump, and that he is the “prophesised President”. These leaders have heard directly from an omniscient being, which means that there is no room for them to re-assess their position based on new information, even if they wanted to.
However, as Reuters indicates, other evangelicals who could step back are instead choosing to double down, despite some formal criticism of Trump’s comments – and they are not just re-affirming their support through gritted teeth.
Perhaps the most shameless cant has come from James Dobson, who famously described Trump as a “baby Christian” – an odd formulation meant to flatter evangelicals that Trump is one of them while not requiring Trump to actually do anything to demonstrate his newly (and conveniently) found faith.
As others have noted, in 1998 Dobson moralized at length about Bill Clinton’s sexual behaviour – yet now his only comment is an oblique rebuke to those who regard Trump with disgust (including, presumably, those women who have been on the receiving end of his attentions):
Lord, You have spoken plainly about the consequences of withholding forgiveness. Help us to hear You and obey. Amen.
— Dr. James Dobson (@DrJamesCDobson) October 8, 2016
The need to focus on political expediency rather than principle is also being emphasised by Franklin Graham. Graham has said that he is not endorsing either candidate, but this is just his way of avoiding taking ownership of where he obviously stands. In 2012, it was recently reported, Trump’s foundation donated $100,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the following year, Trump appeared in a group photo taken to celebrate Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, alongside Sarah Palin and Rupert Murdoch, among others.
Graham started the past week by opining that “nobody gives a rip about Donald J. Trump’s taxes”, and adding that tax money was being used for “for things like gender reassignment and hormone therapy for military personnel” anyway (an echo of Trump’s own defence, that money paid in taxes is “squandered”); there’s thus a nice symmetry that by the end of the week he was minimising “crude comments… made more than 11 years ago”, which he immediately contrasted with “the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton”.
How allowing a man of Trump’s coarseness to occupy the USA’s highest office will make America more godly is difficult to envisage; and Russell Moore, of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is of the view that “the damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ’80s TV evangelist scandals.”
(For continuing information and analysis of the intersection between Trump and evangelicalism, I particularly recommend following @sarahposner and @JonathanMerritt; Sarah’s Twitter thread starting here is a must-read.)
Filed under: Uncategorized