Should “Trump-Loving” Evangelicals Apologize to Bill Clinton?

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James Dobson made a strong case for the moral character of the President of the United States during the Clinton impeachment crisis in 1998.  You can read about it here.

So did Wayne Grudem.  You can read about it here.

It has now been well-chronicled that Dobson and Grudem have come out in support of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

So does moral character still matter?

Writing at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt calls attention to what seems to be the hypocrisy of these “Trump-Loving evangelicals.” He demands that “Trump-loving evangelicals should either apologize to Bill Clinton or admit, after all these years, that they too, have a character issue.”

He adds:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

At least Mohler is consistent, which is more than can be said for some of his peers in leadership. While prominent evangelicals tied Bill Clinton to the public whipping post for nearly a decade to make him pay penance for his character defects, they now celebrate a reality-television star who is at least as flawed. As Mohler said, if these Christian leaders want to endorse Trump, they should apologize to Bill Clinton…

…Evangelicals during the ’90s were not merely concerned with Clinton’s private behavior; they were worried about its effect on a society they felt had already abandoned traditional values. In September 1998, James Dobson of Focus on the Family sent a letter to 2.4 million conservative Christians claiming Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for our children about “respecting women.” Dobson’s apparent concern for women back then feels like a partisan political move now that he’s given Trump an enthusiastic endorsement.

While Clinton, at least, hid his indiscretions, Trump has paraded his affairs down Broadway for decades. In The Art of the Deal, Trump actually bragged about bedding multiple married women. He’s slept with so many women that he called his ability to avoid STDs “my personal Vietnam.” He’s objectified or insulted the women he hasn’t married, divorced, or slept with, labeling those he finds unattractive with terms like “fat pig,” “dog” or “slob.” In numerous interviews with Howard Stern, he talked in graphic detail about his sexual exploits and discussed which female celebrities are worth a “bang.” How exactly do evangelicals reconcile this behavior with claims that they value respect for women?

Read the entire piece here.

OK, now some thoughts for my evangelical and Christian readers:

There have been a lot of arguments in the evangelical community about whether one should or should not support Trump.  As I argued yesterday, the pro-Trump argument centers on his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. But I hear very little conversation within evangelical circles about how support for Donald Trump impacts Christian witness in the United States and beyond.  No one is talking about how a Trump-loving evangelical bears testimony to his or her faith with unbelievers.  (Last time I checked evangelism was a fundamental tenet of evangelical belief).

Whether we like it or not, or whether it is fair or not, we live in an age when religious conviction and politics are closely linked in the minds of many Americans. If you are an evangelical who supports Trump you are going to have a lot of explaining to do when unbelieving friends and acquaintances ask you how you claim the name of Jesus Christ and still affiliate with the immoral candidate that Merritt describes above.  Somehow I don’t think “well, Hillary is a lot worse” or “we need to win the Supreme Court” is going to be an adequate answer.

8 thoughts on “Should “Trump-Loving” Evangelicals Apologize to Bill Clinton?

  1. William Wilberforce presciently called unitarianism a halfway house to infidelity, and indeed, today’s Unitarian Universalist Church has made theism optional.

    So too, since per O’Sullivan’s law, liberal Christianity has taken over most Protestant institutions and reduced Christianity to little more than a huggy Barneyism and the Beatitudes, it’s not unfair to say that it is responsible for the decline in believers, a halfway house to “morally therapeutic deism.” When a church’s tenets are indistinguishable from the Democratic Party platform, who needs the church?

    There’s a meme among liberal evangelicals [who according exit polls represent about 30%] that theo-political conservatism is chasing away the young from Jesus. The counterargument is that liberal Christianity is making Jesus superfluous.

    Jody Bottum:

    In truth, there are still plenty of Methodists around. Baptists and Presbyterians, too—Lutherans, Episcopalians, and all the rest; millions of believing Christians who remain serious and devout. For that matter, you can still find, ­soldiering on, some of the institutions they established in their Mainline glory days: the National Council of Churches, for instance, in its God Box up on New York City’s Riverside Drive, with the cornerstone laid, in a grand ceremony, by President Eisenhower in 1958. But those institutions are corpses, even if they don’t quite realize that they’re dead. The great confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

    And that leaves us in an odd situation, unlike any before. The death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other ­period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: The Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2008/08/26/from-mainline-to-sideline-the-death-of-protestant-america/

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  2. Yes. I think this is an issue for those of us who are concerned about matters pertaining to evangelical witness and evangelization. I know not everyone who read this blog is concerned about these things since these are intramural issues that concern the church. It is easy to politicize this stuff. Someone on Twitter (a friend of Mr. Van Dyke) is a case in point. This person could not understand my concern apart from politics and thus questioned whether or not I was advocating that evangelicals should not vote. This is entirely missing what I was trying to say. The confusion is probably my fault since it is often unclear about whether I am writing on the blog for the general public, other historians, the evangelical community, etc.

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  3. I think that John’s argument here is centered on the Evangelical item of faith–the call of all Christians to take an active part in bringing people into the Kingdom. So the question is then: Will evangelical support of Trump be a hinderance to evangelization? Of course, we won’t know for a number of years how it works out. But, my reading of those outside the faith (and, it is just my own experience) is that when people see what seems to them to be blatant hypocrisy, they turn away from the message because of the messenger. Evangelicals should worry about this at least as much as the affect upon the nation of the election of Hillary. I think a lot of people are surprised (or perhaps not surprised) that evangelicals seem happy to throw the first stone.

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  4. To be fair to at least Grduem (I cannot speak for Dobson), I think it is a mis-characterization to lump him into a camp called “Trump-loving Evangelicals.” Grudem has made it clear that Trump is a flawed man and he is reluctant to endorse him. He has made his case under the rubric of “the lesser of two evils.” I think Jerry Falwell, Jr. fits into this category much better since he made a strong case for Trump in the primaries. Grudem’s case is one of conceding to the fact that evangelicals have no other options at this point since Hillary is simply out of the question. Having said that, I have two comments about Grudem’s case. 1) I disagree with him vigorously. Character is highly important here and I believe it will hurt evangelicals to support Trump. 2) Even if I agreed with his argument, he did not make it well. This is especially the case when he used statements like “a good candidate with flaws.” He was not using “good” in a moral sense, but that is how many took his words to mean.

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  5. Mostly I’m saying that the morality stakes have been raised nationally in a mere 18 years, and L’Affaire Lewinsky seems rather pale now. There is the Oval Office dimension, the perjury dimension and the lying straight to the American people dimension, but I note them only in passing since you have mooted them in your presentation of the question here. But the sensational and tawdry particulars of the Lewinsky affair amplified the whole eruption [as did the legal mess of the Paula Jones dimension]; the recent allegation that Bill was doing Walter Mondale’s daughter at the same time has not raised a single eyebrow.

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  6. Tom: You are making an argument that what happened in 1998 with Bill Clinton is a different and more series “character” issue than Trump in 2016. I am willing to consider this possibility, but let’s hear the Trump evangelicals make this case.

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  7. Somehow I don’t think “well, Hillary is a lot worse” or “we need to win the Supreme Court” is going to be an adequate answer.

    The Lewinsky affair was rather a watershed in American political life–as Dobson points out, the most appalling thing about the scandal was that it wasn’t even a scandal–many or most Democrats dismissed Clinton’s misconduct in the Oval Office with a girl half his age as irrelevant.

    So, 20 years on, what do you expect the Religious Right to do, unilaterally disarm? Trump’s the nominee. In her vociferous support of abortion to the point of supporting the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, thus putting government in the business of financing abortion, Hillary represents a genuine evil that dwarfs mere character sins such as adultery. She is not just pro-choice, she is authentically pro-abortion.

    Add in the assault on religious liberty that Mrs. Clinton will likely abet–even merely by appointing leftist Supreme Court justices–and the question is just how much further down the slope of “godless immorality” she will take America. Where her husband supported the nearly unanimously-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we now have court-imposed gay marriage, and that boys can become girls just by thinking they’re girls is but one Supreme Court decision away, a decision Hillary will enthusiastically back.

    The past is indeed a foreign country, even the past of Dobson’s quaint Puritan outrage of 1998. The unthinkable has already come to pass, with more to come.

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