The release of an audio recording that reveals Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault and groping women’s genitals hasn’t put a dent in evangelicals’ support for the Republican presidential nominee. To these Christians, Trump is no more a sinner than the rest of us.
A whopping 69 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters currently favor Trump, according to recent data from Public Religion Research Institute. It’s a stunning majority for a candidate whose xenophobia, promiscuity and belligerence make him an unlikely pick for Christians who have claimed a moral high ground in previous election cycles.
But morality ― in personal character and behavior ― is becoming less and less important to evangelical Christians in selecting elected officials. According to the survey by PRRI, 72 percent of white evangelical Protestants say an elected official can act ethically even if they commit transgressions in their personal life. That’s a 42-point jump since PRRI last asked the question in 2011, and it’s more than 10 percentage points higher than the general public.
It’s also higher than the percentages of other Christians. Six in ten white mainline Protestants and nearly as many Catholics believe honesty and ethical integrity don’t necessarily match up with personal behavior. That’s up from 38 percent and 42 percent, respectively, in 2011.
Religiously unaffiliated Americans fall behind evangelicals by 12 percentage points and have remained constant in their views. Roughly 60 percent in both 2016 and 2011 said they believed elected officials who behave immorally in their personal lives can still act ethically in their public duties.
The jump in white evangelicals is stark, given that the group that was once least likely to forgive personal immorality in public officials is now the one most likely to do so.
“We’re all sinners, every one of us,” Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Christian college Liberty University, told Rita Cosby on WABC Radio in defense of Trump’s boasting about sexually assaulting women. “We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot.”
Many of Trump’s Christian supporters claim the candidate will guide the country on a more ethical path by appointing Supreme Court judges who will oppose abortion and ensure legal protection for those who reject same-sex marriage.
A growing contingent of evangelicals and Christian conservatives are speaking out against Trump, however. Several days after the audio’s release, leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today published an editorial publicly denouncing the candidate.
Megachurch pastor James MacDonald, a member of Trump’s own evangelical advisory council, sent an email to others in the group calling the Republican nominee “lecherous and worthless.” And prominent evangelical theologian and former Trump supporter Wayne Grudem published a column condemning the nominee’s “moral character” and urging him to withdraw from the election.
Christian women across denominations have also been vocal in rebuking Trump for his disparaging comments about women and other marginalized groups. And they’ve taken Christian Trump-ers to task for supporting a candidate with such a track record.
“The Christian message of forgiveness should no longer be co-opted to maintain men in places of power, especially not the office of the President of the United States,” Dr. Laura Levens, professor of Christian Mission at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, told The Huffington Post for a previous article. “It is time that Christians begin speaking about the humanity and dignity of women, and of everyone.”
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