Christian Right Leader Urges Trump to Clean-Up His Act

Wallace Henley is the Associate Pastor at Houston Baptist Church, a 69,000 member megachurch.  He worked as a White House aide in the Nixon administration, served as president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and was an award-winning journalist for The Birmingham News.  He writes Christian books and seems to have a following on the Christian Right.   Henley is a columnist at the Christian Post website. His forthcoming book The Trump Enigma (Thomas Nelson, 2020) appears to be a defense of Trump.

In his 2005 book, Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie, historian Wayne Flynt writes about Henley:

President Richard Nixon had portrayed himself as a deeply religious man by bringing ministers to the White House to preach . The impressive surroundings and aura of power overwhelmed visiting Baptist ministers as normally cautious as Billy Graham.  One young Alabama Baptist flew particularly close to the alluring flame of presidential power.  Wallace Henley was a Samford University graduate, minister, and religion reporter for the Birmingham News when he became active in the 1968 campaign.  Three years later the White House invited Henley to become assistant director of the cabinet committee on education.  Later he became director of public and congressional affairs in the Justice Department.  Although Henley could not have known it at the time, he was also a pawn in a political strategy.  Nixon believed that Alabama governor George Wallace was the chief barrier to his reelection in 1972.  By splitting the antiliberal vote between himself and Wallace, Nixon feared a Democratic victory.  The appointment of southerners like Henley was designed to appeal to Southern Baptists and neutralize Wallace’s popularity in the South.  Like John Buchanan, Henley initially defended the president during the Watergate scandals but quickly realized the ethical quagmire in which he found himself.  He resigned in 1973 and wrote a book (Enter at Your Own Risk, 1974) to explain how he had allowed his support of Nixon’s political ideology and the trappings of presidential power sucked him into a cynical world where politicians used religion to manipulate a gullible public.  The autobiography was the first step on a path that led Henley back into the pulpit, to the presidency of the state convention, and ultimately into the charismatic Baptist ministry.

Henley does not seem to have any real beef with Donald Trump’s policies, but he is upset about his language.  He recently wrote an “Open Letter” to Trump at the Christian Post.  Here is a taste:

Along with millions of people of many faiths I thank you for the bold stand you have taken for religious freedom. The eloquent speech you gave at the United Nations was one of your finest moments—in fact, one of the finest of any president.

I have worked in the White House, and I have written about the presidency since the 1970s, but have never seen nor heard a president of the United States so powerfully defend the right of people to choose what they believe about God and to worship freely.

I also join my voice to the millions so grateful to you for your unrelenting defense of the fundamental right to life of the unborn. Your firm stance against the abortion movement that has escalated to shocking levels is crucial. It is unconscionable that there are those in the industry who are willing to take human life almost at the point of birth.

Christians of many denominations and movements, along with many in other religions are thankful for your leadership in these areas.

Nevertheless, many Christians remain troubled by your careless speech….

You are in the Oval Office largely on the strength of the conservative Christian vote, and I appeal to you not to continue to insult and embarrass us through your speeches and actions. Rather than contributing to the coarseness of contemporary culture, set a presidential example that elevates discourse.

In short, sir, you need to clean up your act.

Last summer, at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, you invoked the darkest of imprecations when you twice used the G-damn word in your speech. The evangelical Christians who support you have as their greatest passion that of helping people escape eternal damnation through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Many, when they heard or read that horrible curse coming from your mouth felt literal pain. Democrat Paul Hardesty, a state senator from a coal-mining district, who, though a Democrat, supports you, spoke for many of us when he wrote you that there is “no place in society… where that type of speech should be used or handled. Your comments were not presidential.”

Nor were they Christian.

Mr. President, you said once that you had never felt a need to ask forgiveness. You have one now. And maybe more as you allow the Spirit of God to search your soul. (Psalm 139:23)

Many evangelicals and other Christians take seriously Daniel 2:21 that says that it is God who “removes kings and establishes kings.” If that verse is true and conveys a principle applied across history, then bring yourself completely under His rulership, and you will be a blessing to the nation and world.

Read the rest here.

Henley talks about the letter in the video above.  I am not sure if this interview is noteworthy, but it is interesting to see pro-Trump Christian Righters speaking-out against Trump’s discourse.  Henley’s line about the Old Testament prophet Amos is worth considering.  He seems to have learned something from his days in the Nixon White House.