What has happened to this evangelical leader?
And, just to remind everyone, here is what Dobson said about character in 1998.
Hmm…. I wonder what explains this?
Back in 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) asked voters if “an elected official who commits and immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”
In 2011, evangelical Christians were the least forgiving.
In October 2016, when PRRI asked the same question, evangelical Christians were the most forgiving. In other words “white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.”
PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones calls this “a head-spinning reversal.”
Read all about it in this piece at The New York Times.
As I have noted several times at this blog and elsewhere, in 1998 evangelical “family values” guru James Dobson said that Bill Clinton was morally unfit for the presidency. (I am still thankful to Katie and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging this up for me!). Today Dobson supports Donald Trump.
Soon a national politician is going to have a moral lapse. If it is a Democrat or an anti-Trump Republican (or maybe even a pro-Trump Republican), the court evangelicals will pounce. When they unleash their moral outrage they will be reminded of their support for Donald Trump. The larger culture will see their hypocrisy. Let’s also hope that the church will see the hypocrisy as well.
Think, for example, about the recent firing of Anthony Scaramucci. If reports are correct, even Trump and his advisers believed that Scaramucci crossed a line with his vulgar language. The court evangelicals were silent. Why? Because they know that they have lost all moral authority to speak out against such vulgarity.
Brantley Gasaway, an American religious historian at Bucknell University and author of the excellent Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, tweeted this letter today in response to my Washington Post piece on the court evangelicals. It comes from the archives of the National Association of Evangelicals at Wheaton College.
The letter is written from James Dobson of Focus on the Family to Robert “Bob” Dugan Jr., the director of the NAE’s Office of Public Affairs. Dobson is worried that if President Bill Clinton was invited to this NAE event it would “divide the evangelical community.”
Yes, times have changed.
Here is a transcription:
Feb[ruary 26, 94
Bob, My Friend
I think NAE has made a serious costly mistake by inviting the President to your annual event. He wants to divide the evangelical community. NAE just helped him do it. I’m disappointed! Jim.
Does anyone know if Clinton came to this “annual event?”
Here is a taste of my piece “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.”
If you want to understand white evangelicalism in the age of Trump, you need to know Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas.
Jeffress is not a household name in the United States, known mainly in Southern Baptist circles. But he has recently gained national attention as a “court evangelical” — my term for a Christian who, like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seeks influence through regular visits to the White House.
The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.
Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.
Read the rest here.
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
Where are the Court Evangelicals today?
Paula White: Silent
James Dobson: Silent
Mark Burns: Silent
Franklin Graham: Silent (He’s actually tweeting about air-traffic control today)
Robert Jeffress: Silent. He’s hanging out with Pence today:
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 29, 2017
James K.A. Smith gets it right:
Congrats on your Supreme Court justice, white evangelicals! And what a deal! It only cost you your dignity, integrity, and witness. https://t.co/vmpEqXtQou
— James K.A. Smith (@james_ka_smith) June 29, 2017
Not all evangelicals who voted for Trump are what I am describing as “court evangelicals.” I am going to use this phrase from now on to describe Trump’s inner circle of evangelicals who think it is a good idea for ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit, have bowed a knee to the political power of the presidency, think Trump is a “baby Christian,” believe evangelicals have found their “dream president” in Trump, and regularly show up at the White House whenever Trump wants to say something about religion. The court evangelicals sacrifice their prophetic voice to political influence. The court evangelicals have put their faith in a political strongman who promises to alleviate their fears and protect them from the forces of secularization.
As I wrote earlier today, the backlash to Trump’s recent executive order on religious liberty was fierce. It fails to deliver on what Trump promised evangelicals on this front during the campaign. But you won’t hear the court evangelicals complain.
I described some of these court evangelicals the other day. The list includes:
On the eve of the National Day of Prayer and Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, the POTUS had dinner with his evangelical support team. The guest list included Paula White, Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Michele Bachman, Mark Burns, Ralph Reed, Mike Pence, Karen Pence, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Reince Prebius, and Steve Bannon.
You may recall some of these evangelical leaders.
Paula White led Trump to Christ
Robert Jeffress was one of the first evangelicals to endorse Trump. He preached an inauguration day sermon comparing Trump’s border wall to the Old Testament story of Nehemiah. He invokes the Civil Rights movement from the pulpit of a church with a long history of segregation. And he doubled-down on his support for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape.
In a prayer at the GOP convention last summer, Mark Burns asked God to defeat the “liberal democrats” and thanked the Lord that the GOP was the “conservative party under God.”
Ralph Reed shows up wherever there is an opportunity to sit at the feet of political power. He has been doing this his entire career.
And we could go on…
Over at Time, Elizabeth Dias gives us the inside scoop on this private dinner.
Here is a taste:
The evening, guests say, was more a celebration of their victories so far than a discussion on future policy. Trump took photos with the guests in the Red Room, Graham kick off festivities with a prayer, and a dinner of shrimp scampi with parsley butter, red wine braised short ribs, and wild ramp gnocchi was served. White presented Trump with a gift on behalf of the group from the Museum of the Bible, a framed page of an original King James Bible from 1611 A.D., “a Bible which as you know was commissioned by a political leader in service to the church,” she said.
Acclaimed evangelical musician Steven Curtis Chapman performed his songs “Be Still and Know” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, gave a benediction, and Trump then invited everyone up to the residence for a brief after party, complete with a tour of the Lincoln bedroom and the Truman balcony, before shaking hands again.
“It was a reunion more than anything,” Bachmann says. “For people of faith, there was so much trepidation about what would happen in this election. They really felt that if Mrs. Clinton had prevailed it would have spelled a diminution of the nation, the nation would have morally suffered.”
Read the rest here.
Over the last week I have been watching and reading people like James Dobson, Ben Carson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Eric Metaxas making “Christian” arguments on behalf of Donald Trump. As more and more woman come out claiming that Trump abused them, it seems like these Christian leaders are doubling-down in support of this man. “What he did is horrible, but…”
I understand their arguments. It all comes down to the appointment of Supreme Court justices. In order to get the justices that they want these evangelicals are willing to back a candidate who, if we believe the women who have spoken-up in the last week, has committed multiple felonies.
Falwell Jr. continues to peddle the idea that Trump is a very different man today because he had a born-again experience. Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home may remember that I called this practice–the appeal to an evangelical conversion experience to excuse Trump’s past indiscretions–the “theopolitical equivalent of money-laundering.”
I also wonder if those evangelicals who have endorsed Trump have forfeited the right to speak to the moral coarseness of American culture. Let’s remember that these evangelicals are supporting a man who, if he gets to the oval office, is one of the leading representatives of the shock-jock (Howard Stern), Hollywood, reality-TV, sex-infused culture that Christians have been fighting against for a long, long time.
For example, here is Metaxas on the importance of cultural narratives and how movies and other forms of popular culture tell stories to unsuspecting young people that prompt them to “soak” in nihilism and sex. If I had the time I am sure I could probably find similar statements from Dobson, Jeffress, Falwell Jr. and the other Trump evangelicals.
The next time these men, and others like them, try to write a book or give a public address or write a blog post or babble on radio show about the moral degradation of American culture I think it is fair to remind them that they supported a candidate for President of the United States who would contribute to this culture.
Here is a taste of Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Washington Post article (via Newsmax)
The comments Mr. Trump made 11 years ago were deplorable and I condemn them entirely. I also find Hillary Clinton’s support of partial birth abortion criminal and her opinion of evangelicals to be bigoted. There really is only one difference between the two. Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not.”
I guess character doesn’t matter any more. Dobson certainly believed character was important in 1998.
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.”
“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.
By now we know that many evangelicals who have serious character issues about Donald Trump are still voting for him because he will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who will try to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergell v. Hodges and respect religious freedom. This is an argument made by prominent evangelicals such as Wayne Grudem, Eric Metaxas, James Dobson, and others. Today I was talking to an evangelical who during the course of our conversation spent ten minutes attacking Trump only to tell me at the end of his tirade that he will be voting for him.
As I wrote last month, Trump’s decision to announce the names of his possible Supreme Court appointees is what is still keeping him in this race. It has proven to be his best move in this campaign.
But what about the fact that Trump is a serial liar? According to the bipartisan PolitiFact, 85% of the claims Trump has made on the campaign trail (or at least the statements PolitiFact checked) are either half true or false. (Compare to Hillary Clinton at 48%). Yesterday he told the crowds at one of his rallies about a video that did not exist and built and entire case against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton based on the video. Today Trump admitted that he did not see the phantom video, but he did not say anything about the argument he made to his supporters stemming from his apparent viewing of it.
There is now a small cottage industry of websites and bloggers who list all of Trump’s lies. Just Google “list of Trump’s lies.”
I find it fascinating that evangelicals are willing to believe Trump will appoint conservative justices when, in fact, more than eight out of ten things he says are either half true or untrue. This is yet another sign of how evangelicals have placed their hopes in government as a means of accomplishing their ends, even to the point of hoping that a political candidate who rarely tells the truth will follow-through on his promise.. Are evangelicals so desperate that they will cling to the words of someone who Ted Cruz called a “pathological liar” and David Brooks says “lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible?”
Apparently James Dobson wants to be part of the big Trump celebration tonight. Time is reporting that he just officially endorsed Donald Trump for POTUS.
Here is a taste:
James Dobson endorsed Donald Trump for president hours before the newly minted GOP nominee is slated to take the stage the final night of the Republican National Convention.
“I have decided to endorse Donald J. Trump for President of the United States, not only because of my great concern about Hillary Clinton,” Dobson said in a statement. “I am supporting Mr. Trump primarily because I believe he is the most capable candidate to lead the United States of America in this complicated hour.”
The Focus on the Family founder’s decision to endorse Trump was prompted by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s address to the RNC on Wednesday night, a Dobson spokesperson told TIME. Cruz congratulated Trump for winning the nomination but did not endorse him, and was booed as he spoke and left the stage.
Dobson was one of the evangelical leaders to endorse Cruz early, in attempt to rally evangelical voters around one candidate. “Ted Cruz’s record on religious liberty, life, and marriage is second to none in this Republican field,” Dobson said in December. “Shirley [Dobson’s wife] and I have been praying for a leader such as this, and we are confident that Ted Cruz has the moral and spiritual foundations to lead our nation with excellence.”
Read the rest here.
I am not going to analyze this here. Instead I will just direct you to this post.
I wrote about this yesterday in the comments section of this post, but I thought I would elaborate a bit more here.
How will evangelicals vote in November?
This post is premised on the belief that evangelicals–while unified around their belief in the new birth, the inspiration of the Bible, and certain core doctrines (Trinity, deity of Christ, Jesus’s resurrection)– are a diverse bunch when it comes to how their beliefs translate into the world of politics.
Here are some of the ways evangelicals have approached, and will approach, the 2016 POTUS election cycle:
1. Some evangelicals will vote for Trump because he will “Make America Great Again.”. These evangelicals backed Trump in the GOP primaries even when there were other evangelical-friendly candidates available (Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Huckabee, Santorum). They include Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., and all of those evangelicals who voted for Trump in the southern primaries and elsewhere. Many of these evangelicals were present at this meeting in September 2015.
2. Some evangelicals will vote for Trump because if they don’t Hillary Clinton will be elected president and they will lose the Supreme Court. Most of these evangelicals backed another candidate during the primaries, but they have now turned to Trump as their only option. They include Mike Pence, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Eric Metaxas. Some of these “anti-Hillary” Trump supporters can come across as very excited about The Donald. Others are going to hold their nose and pull the lever for him.
3. Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.
4.. Some evangelicals will vote for a third-party candidate. I don’t know of any major evangelicals who have come out in support of the Libertarian ticket or the Green ticket. If you know of evangelical leaders who are endorsing these candidate please let me know in the comments. I am curious.
5.. Some evangelicals will not vote in the presidential election. They will exercise their civic duty by casting votes in non-presidential or “down-ballot” elections.
6. Some evangelicals will vote for Hillary Clinton. I am guessing that many evangelical Democrats–including most black evangelicals– will vote for her. Recently Thabiti Anyabwile, an African-American Southern Baptist pastor in Washington D.C., made a case for Clinton at the theologically conservative (but politically diverse–I assume) Gospel Coalition blog.
Is there a category I am missing?
If you are an evangelical (or something close) where do you place yourself?
So maybe Donald Trump did not have a born-again experience. Allegra Kirkland reports at Talking Points Memo:
While Dobson characterized Trump at the time as a “baby Christian,” he seemed more circumspect about the New York real estate mogul’s newfound faith in a statement released Monday to the Christian publication Charisma News.
“Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard,” Dobson said. “First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.”
“Do I know that for sure? No,” Dobson added. “Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do.”
White is a Florida-based prosperity preacher whose Without Walls International Church, with which she is no longer associated, and Paula White Ministries were both investigated by the Senate Finance Committee. The committee concluded the three-year investigation in 2011 without finding specific instances of wrongdoing.
Read the rest here.
Check out Lincoln Mullen’s piece at The Atlantic on Donald Trump’s apparent conversion. Mullen, a professor of history at George Mason University, places James Dobson’s claim that Donald Trump became a born-again Christian in historical context.
Here is his conclusion:
All of which connects to Dobson’s claim about Trump’s supposed conversion. It is plausible that Paula White could have “led [Trump] to Christ” by reciting a sinner’s prayer while Trump remained oblivious to its meaning as a feature of evangelical conversion. Or Dobson and White could have made the conversion up. Regardless of its truth, the claim seems like an attempt to make Trump more palatable to conservative Christian voters and re-secure their now-tenuous grasp on political power. Many evangelicals will be unable to cast a vote for the Republican presidential candidate with an untroubled conscience. If trusted leaders like Dobson can convince them that Trump is born again, some may find it easier to vote for him in November.
Evangelicals sing of conversion as being “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” but Dobson’s attempt is more akin to a whitewashing. If the doctrine of new birth is the birthright of evangelicals, leaders like Dobson would have them trade it for a mess of pottage.
Mullen nails it. I also used the “mess of pottage” metaphor in my debate with Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, another evangelical supporter of Trump. And whether we call it “whitewashing” or “laundering,” Dobson’s reference to a Trump conversion is designed to clean Trump of his moral indiscretions so that he is more palatable to evangelical voters.
As Mullen’s article suggests, the experience of the new birth is what makes an evangelical an evangelical. It is a very personal rite of passage celebrated within a spiritual community. Dobson and friends have taken this sacred ritual–one that evangelicals believe makes a person right with God, offers redemption, and provides them with hope–and has used it to promote an agenda in the profane world of politics.
It is apparently prosperity preacher Paula White.
Here is Dobson’s statement:
Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ. Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do. But there are many Christian leaders who are serving on a faith advisory committee for Trump in the future. I am among them. There are about 45 of us that include Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Ben Carson, James Robison, Jerry Johnson, and many others whom you would probably know. We’ve all agreed to serve. How will that play out if Trump becomes president? I don’t know. It is a good start, I would think.
If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act. All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death. And, if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis.
White helped to organize last week’s meeting with evangelicals in New York.
Here is White praying with Trump last year.
Notice what White prays here. (She is third person to pray–standing to Trump’s immediate right). “That no weapon formed against him will be able to prosper and any tongue that rises against him will be condemned according to the word of God.” In one fail swoop she casts the judgment of God on anyone who opposes Trump.
The laundering of Trump continues.
…and got no credit for it. (OK–that sounded pretty whiny, but I think I am going to stick with it).
Yesterday I broke the Donald Trump “conversion” story here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. (Actually, the pastor Michael Anthony broke it and Charisma magazine may have posted the story around the same time that I did).
One of the people who retweeted my post was New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel:
Is Trump born again? “I think my fellow evangelicals are being played” https://t.co/TdVS5PJpO5
— Trip Gabriel (@tripgabriel) June 25, 2016
Gabriel took the news to the pages of The New York Times here. My post is now, with the exception of my commentary, no longer relevant.
Of course there are no footnotes in journalism, but perhaps Gabriel could have thrown a bone (in the forms of a link or reference in the piece) to a small, hard-working blogger! 🙂
Earlier this evening I wrote a post on James Dobson‘s claim that Donald Trump has become a born-again Christian. Dobson’s news comes in the wake of Trump’s meeting on Tuesday with evangelicals. Shortly after that meeting the Trump campaign announced that it has established an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. Apparently this board will eventually lead a larger, yet-to-be-established, “Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee.”
Here are the members of the committee:
The best analysis of this group can be found at Christianity Today. I encourage you to read its post. It is excellent. (I am also encouraged to see that one of my former students, Morgan Lee, contributed to the piece).
I am not familiar with all of the people on Trump’s committee, but I do think it is fair to say that it is dominated by two types of evangelicals.
Some of the members of the committee are operating with the 1980s and 1990s playbook of the Christian Right. As I wrote earlier today, this is “an approach that assumes that the United States was once a ‘Christian nation‘ (although that phrase now seems to be replaced with the mantra of “religious liberty”) and the only way to save it from falling into the abyss is to cozy up to national politicians.” These are veterans of the culture war who long for the glory days of the Reagan era. Most of them remember the 1990s and thus really do not like Hillary Clinton
The evangelicals on Trump’s committee who represent this group include: Michelle Bachman, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, Richard Land, and Ralph Reed. (Christianity Today notes that there is a Southern Baptist subset in this group that includes Floyd, Jeffress, Land, and others). These folks are mostly white males. According to my rough estimate, they average just over 64 years of age.
I will call the other major group the charismatic/faith-healing/prosperity/entrepreneurial wing of American evangelicalism. The evangelicals on Trump’s committee who represent this group include John Mark Burns, Kenneth Copeland, Gloria Copeland, Robert Morris, James Robison, Jay Strack, and Paula White. This group is only slightly younger and slightly more diverse in terms of race and gender. This groups is eclectic, but many of them are probably attracted to Trump’s business acumen and wealth.
If you read this blog you know what I think about the practice of evangelical leaders cozying up to political power.
Let’s also remember that these evangelicals only represent a some American evangelicals.
Apparently Donald Trump has had a conversion experience and is now a born-again Christian.
Following Trump’s meeting on Tuesday with evangelical leaders, York, Pennsylvania megachurch pastor Michael Anthony interviewed Christian psychologist, culture-warrior and radio-show host James Dobson about Trump.
Listen to the short interview here. (It is the one titled “Did Trump accept Christ?”).
Here is a transcript of the pertinent part of the interview:
Dobson: There are a lot of people ministering to him (Trump) personally…He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ. And that’s fairly recent.
Anthony: No kidding. How recent?
Dobson: I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long.
Dobson: I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian.
This is the first I have heard about a Trump conversion. Michael Anthony, who, of course, was also at the meeting on Tuesday, runs an organization called Godfactor. He is the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in York, Pennsylvania. From what I understand, Grace Fellowship is a pretty mainstream evangelical church.
I am less interested in the validity of Trump’s conversion (I will let the pastors and theologians sort that out) than I am in Dobson’s statement. (I will assume that the person on the recording was James Dobson. I have listened to him on the radio enough to recognize his voice. I also trust Anthony’s integrity).
Dobson and the others in attendance at this meeting seem to be making every effort to make Trump palatable for evangelical voters, even to the point of claiming that he had a born-again experience. (An evangelical friend of mine, upon hearing this news, said that he hopes Trump’s conversion came after he said he has never asked for forgiveness).
Dobson’s approach comes from the old Christian Right playbook. It is an approach that assumes that the United States was once a “Christian nation” (although that phrase now seems to be replaced with the mantra of “religious liberty”) and the only way to save it from falling into the abyss is to cozy up to national politicians
Such an approach is problematic for two reasons. First, it sacrifices the prophetic ministry of the church on the altar or politics and power. This, it seems to me, is idolatry. Instead of calling out Trump for a whole host of anti-Christian remarks and his “eye for an eye” approach to politics (I will not go into that laundry list right now–you can all rattle off the examples), these Christian leaders are making excuses for his behavior. In the process, they fail to perform the kind of divinely-ordained work they are called to do.
What happened on Tuesday in New York was the theo-political equivalent of money laundering. Dobson and his gang are making Trump clean so that he is worthy of evangelical votes.
Second, as James Davison Hunter has shown us, such an approach is not a very effective way of changing a culture. (Perhaps I will develop these thoughts in a later post).
Dobson is not the only one who has fallen under Trump’s spell. Head back over to Anthony’s website and listen to the American Family Radio interview.
On Wednesday, long-time Christian Right politico Ralph Reed defended, and even praised Trump on National Public Radio. He supports Trump because the GOP nominee is pro-life, a good businessman, and seems to have been a good father. Again, I don’t understand how a Christian like Reed with a public platform can ignore Trump’s temperament, personal style, views on immigrants and religious liberty, misogyny, narcissism, vulgarity, anger, “eye for an eye” view of the world, etc. It is sad to see Reed making excuses for Trump’s behavior. How far has the moral bar been lowered by these so-called “evangelical leaders?”
Michael Anthony claimed that he felt God was speaking through Donald Trump during Tuesday’s meeting.
I think my fellow evangelicals are being played.