May 4, 2018
By various measures the country is in poor shape. The federal government is mired in corruption and moral failure. We might reasonably look to religious leaders for answers and guidance; think of the civil rights crisis, in which pastors such as Martin Luther King led in spirit and in action. Unfortunately, now the most visible religious figures are part of the problem.
Support for Trump by conservative Christians is a continuing puzzle. Why would they stand behind a man who embodies, in numerous ways, the opposite of their beliefs and standards? The question swirls around the announcement in April that "evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June." "We're very concerned" about the Clifford/Daniels affair, "said a leader of a faith-based ministry." That might be expected; Trump’s behavior, alleged and known, should be offensive to them. Although they are, as stated, "concerned," that is not, apparently, because of moral or religious principles, at least not directly. Their reason for the meeting seems to be anxiety that Democrats might prevail in the midterm election.
"The source said the combination of the Stormy Daniels sex-scandal allegations and Trump's continued reputation for divisive rhetoric could suppress evangelical turnout in the November midterm elections." Granted, they do worry about some specific issues: " ‘It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear,’ like preserving religious liberty and restricting abortion rights, the source noted." In other words, a Republican Congress and conservative judges are their goals. Trump’s reputation might interfere.
Abortion is a subject worthy of discussion, and of compromise, although the evangelicals may be no more inclined to compromise than liberals. "Religious liberty" likely is a euphemism for freedom to discriminate or to impose views on others, as in the Hobby Lobby case (which also involved hyper-conservative abortion views). The religious leaders are willing to empower a man who is so incompetent and erratic as to endanger the country, in order to pursue a narrow agenda. The same could be said of other Trump supporters, but it seems especially odd among people who claim the moral high ground.
Although the unidentified spokesman said that "Trump's tone and personal life remain a concern for many evangelicals," others, including Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America ("your voice for Biblical values") were less concerned. As to the Daniels storm, "I just honestly don't hear hand-wringing over the issue. They're not surprised," she said, apparently referring to Trump’s Christian supporters; "they made that decision a long time ago. This president is not Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee; he doesn't pretend to be a Bible-banging evangelical." Support of Trump by any voice for Biblical values, especially the leader of a women’s group, is puzzling.
"Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also said it's ‘highly dubious’ that the allegations will substantially erode support for the president or suppress midterm turnout." Opportunism becomes a religious tenet.
A month earlier, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said: “Evangelicals know they’re not compromising their beliefs in order to support this great president. And let’s be clear, evangelicals still believe in the commandment ‘thou shalt not have sex with a porn star.’ However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him." That sounds like compromising their beliefs. Evangelicals knew they “weren’t voting for an altar boy, he said;” they support Trump for his “policies and strong leadership.”
One meeting of evangelicals, but without Trump, took place last month. "Evangelical" is a term more often applied than defined; usually it seems to equate to conservative Christian, or white conservative Christian, and carries an implication more of politics than of religion. A report of the gathering this month used the word in a more traditional, literal sense.
The article, by Katelyn Beaty, formerly managing editor of Christianity Today, began with a description of the memorial service for Billy Graham, who was an evangelist, that is a spreader of the Christian message, with the intent of conversion. However, "[m]any evangelical leaders, including some in attendance at Graham’s funeral, were fearful that this association with Trump now threatened the focus on personal salvation that Graham spent a lifetime preaching." Accordingly, a meeting was arranged at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois. The invitation stated that "support of ‘eighty-one per cent of self-identifying white evangelicals’ for Donald Trump is a call to self-reflection on the current condition of Evangelicalism.” Indeed.
The meeting seems to have gone nowhere. Some participants left in protest of comments critical of Trump. Although a formal statement was contemplated, none was issued. The author clearly was disappointed in the result: "Without a statement, and with the bewildering skittishness about getting political, my time at Wheaton left me feeling deeply unsettled about the moral and political fortitude of my spiritual community in the era of Trump and beyond."
Ms.Beaty wanted evangelicals to take a stand, to do good. "Much of evangelicalism still functions with a spiritual-secular divide, as if the physical concerns of this world can be neatly fixed with worship and prayer. But worship and prayer are not the only things that this Trumpian moment demands of us. Rather, the moment calls for risk." This calls to mind the formulistic call for prayer after each mass shooting, a substitute for action.
She named some who had taken a stand, who had risked, including King; they "stood against corruption with courage and grace. They hadn’t been afraid to get political, to challenge unjust systems and policies. The Church was made stronger for it." The society was improved as well. However, there is little sign now of such an effort.
The spiritual-secular divide, the flight from dealing with urgent real-world problems, is exacerbated by the rejection, by many conservative Christians, of scientific facts. Some, such as evolution, are opposed to traditional belief, or are thought to be. Others are politically inconvenient. Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, cited Genesis to prove that global warming is a hoax.
In an excellent article in The Atlantic, Michael Gerson, a graduate of Wheaton, described one of the sources of modern fact-aversion. In the early twentieth century, "the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction." It represented a break with older evangelicalism. "In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and over literal in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea.”
Now, as noted above, evangelicals have taken another step: establishing a hierarchy of virtues which relegates personal merit to a lower rank, and threatens to reduce religion to another, rather hypocritical, special interest. In describing the fall of Alabama Governor Bentley, in a sex scandal, an article offered this summary: "[I]t had become clear that for conservative Christians, the cultural and political issues that define modern conservative politics mattered at least as much as moral piety. . . .’The idea that moral hypocrisy hurts you among evangelical voters is not true, if you’re sound on all of the fundamentals,’ said Wayne Flynt, an ordained Baptist minister and one of Alabama’s pre-eminent historians. . . .‘At this time, what is fundamental is hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same-sex marriage’.”
Many of the comments by evangelical leaders defy belief. Here are several from Gerson’s article: Following news of Trump’s tryst with Stormy Daniels and the payment of hush money, Franklin Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Somewhat more evasively, Tony Perkins urged forgiveness or, in his phrase, Trump should be given a "mulligan" for his fooling around. "Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: ‘It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.’ According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have ‘found their dream president,’ which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams."
Some have been driven from the fold. Peter Weiner, a conservative writer, declared in a recent column that he no longer could call himself an evangelical. During the Alabama special election, in which Roy Moore was the Republican candidate, Weiner wrote: "the support being given by many Republicans and white evangelicals to President Trump and now to Mr. Moore have caused me to rethink my identification with both groups. . . . I consider Mr. Trump’s Republican Party to be a threat to conservatism, and I have concluded that the term evangelical — despite its rich history of proclaiming the ‘good news’ of Christ to a broken world — has been so distorted that it is now undermining the Christian witness." 
Others have expressed similar views to him. One said "the term evangelical “is now a tribal rather than a creedal description.” Gerson summed the problem up in similar terms: "The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness."
37. https://www.npr.org/2018/04/06/599972396/concerned-evangelicals-plan-to-meet-with- trump-as-sex-scandals-swirl?utm_source=The%20Muck%20Rack%20Daily&utm_campaign =068597c810-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_06&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ af2b2023a3-068597c810-20027577&via=newsletter&source=CSPMedition