Donald Trump may claim to have “won with evangelicals,” but he has a long way to go if he wants to win over many of their leaders.
Rank and file white evangelicals, who make up one-fifth of all registered voters in the U.S., have in fact rallied in favor of the reality TV star-turned-presidential candidate. But a number of high profile evangelical leaders have spoken out against Trump’s campaign, policies, and tactics in recent months.
These evangelical leaders have pointed out that Trump’s policies and actions don’t reflect Christian values. In the past, Trump has appeared unfamiliar with scripture ― even though memorizing Bible verses is a common and encouraged practice among Christians. And he’s claimed he’s never asked God for forgiveness ― an act that is an essential element of Christian theology.
Even some of the evangelicals who have warmed to the candidate and agreed to join his evangelical advisory board have previously called Trump “an embarrassment” and “a scam.”
A recent Pew Research Center study suggested that although 78 percent of white evangelical voters say they’d cast their ballots for Trump if the election were held today, about 55 percent of that group say they are dissatisfied with the choice of presidential candidates.
Greg Smith, one of the researchers behind the Pew study, told The Washington Post: “There were many evangelical leaders throughout the course of the primaries and even up to today who have raised concerns about Trump and raised questions about how he reflects Christian values ... I wouldn’t necessarily say it means evangelical voters are not listening to evangelical leaders. The commitment of evangelical voters to the Republican party is quite strong.”
While Trump may have sealed the deal with Republican voters at their national convention on Thursday, HuffPost Religion rounded up quotes from eight evangelical leaders who have questioned whether Trump is in fact the best candidate to promote their interests and lead America. From complaints about his lack of compassion for the powerless to diatribes against divisive comments he’s made about race, here are just a few reasons why these leaders aren’t convinced that Donald Trump’s theology is a reflection of the example set by Jesus Christ.
President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
In op-eds, tweets, and video interviews, Russell Moore has been one of the most outspoken evangelical critics of Trump, questioning the candidate’s moral character and blasting the “reality television moral sewage” that Trump’s campaign has dredged up in American culture.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in June, Moore compared Trump to a “lost person” and said that his prayer for the candidate is that he “repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ” and become a person who “understands the principles of justice.”
“I, of course, believe people can change, but that would be a remarkable change,” Moore said during the interview.
Moore has also criticized Trump’s Christian supporters and other evangelical leaders who he claims are “scared silent” while their faith tradition is associated with “everything from authoritarianism and bigotry to violations of religious freedom.”
Trump is “changing the moral character of people,” Moore said in the CBN interview. “Including the people that are supporting him and getting on the bandwagon, having had to excuse things that they’ve never had to excuse before.”
Founder of the faith and public policy consulting firm, Public Square
Eric Teetsel is a former faith advisor to Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign who has remained fervently anti-Trump. In June, Teetsel protested a private meeting Trump had with the country’s top conservative Christian leaders by standing outside with a handmade sign that read, “Torture is not pro-life. Racism is not pro-life. Misogyny is not pro-life. Murdering the children of terrorists is not pro-life.”
“Christians are called to live out the Gospel in every aspect of their lives, including politics. It matters. It’s important. But we have to be sure that we are representing the Gospel in truth,” he told Yahoo News at the time. “I think we know enough about Donald Trump to know that a Christian response should be prayer for him, but also a prophetic witness about what is true.”
Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has lashed out at Trump and the values he represents in numerous essays for The New York Times. He compares Trump’s approach to morality to the one held by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which prioritizes strength and power over care for the poor and powerless. Trump’s contempt for the weak, his bullying nature, and lack of compassion and empathy form a worldview that Wehner believes is “incompatible with Christianity.”
The calling of Christians is to be ‘salt and light’ to the world, to model a philosophy that defends human dignity, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to stand for justice, dispense grace and be agents of reconciliation in a broken world. And it is to take seriously the words of the prophet Micah, ‘And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?’
Evangelical Christians who are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump are signaling, even if unintentionally, that this calling has no place in politics and that Christians bring nothing distinctive to it — that their past moral proclamations were all for show and that power is the name of the game.
Pastor of Anacostia River Church
Thabiti Anyabwile is a conservative pastor from Washington, D.C. who is a member of The Gospel Coalition, a network of evangelical churches. He has expressed views that are critical of both Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. But given a choice between the two, Anyabwile claims he’d vote for Clinton.
In an op-ed published on The Gospel Coalition’s website on June 7, Anyabwile pointed out that Trump’s comments against Muslims and Mexicans were clear violations of religious and civil liberty. Trump’s policies would end up “making America racist again.”
“Here’s the problem with living 50 years after the American Civil Rights Movement and the de jure segregation of the land that produced it: Too many people now have no idea how every-day-horrendous-and-perilous life was under that system. And if you can’t imagine the daily stresses and sudden endangerment faced by African Americans in that system, then chances are you can’t quite fathom the alarm that survivors or students of that period have when we look at a Mr. Trump,” Anyabwile wrote. “And failing to recognize these things, you may be vulnerable to sliding over to the Trump column without due consideration of the ugliness of racism.”
Rep. Reid Ribble
Three-term Republican Congressman from Wisconsin
Rep. Reid Ribble has refused to budge on Trump throughout this election cycle. The congressman accused the candidate of being a “racist” after Trump’s disparaging remarks toward a judge of Mexican heritage. Ribble told CNN that he is considering voting for the Libertarian Party this November.
In an op-ed for Christian Post, Ribble wrote: “The Evangelical community’s values include repentance, forbearance, uprightness, and the value of a hard day’s work. With that in mind, I am dismayed by the excitement I have seen from parts of the Evangelical community over Donald Trump’s campaign for president. In his personal life, his often-changing political beliefs, and especially his language, he totally disregards the values that we hold dear.”
President Jimmy Carter
Former President of The United States, Sunday School Teacher
President Jimmy Carter, the first U.S. president to call himself a born-again Christian, has said that Trump violated “basic human rights” with his comments about Mexican immigrants and his call to ban Muslims from entering the country.
In an interview with The New York Times, Carter said that Trump’s campaign has “tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism.”
Oak Hills Church pastor and popular Christian author
In a blog written in February, Max Lucado said that Trump does not pass his “decency interview” and wonders why decency isn’t doing better in the presidential race. He pointed out some of Trump’s actions and attitudes towards women, people with disabilities, and the way he badmouths people who disagree with him.
Lucado wrote in the blog:
“Such insensitivities wouldn’t be acceptable even for a middle school student body election. But for the Oval Office? And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith? I have no inside track on the intricacies of a presidential campaign. I’m a pastor. I don’t endorse candidates or place bumper stickers on my car. But I am protective of the Christian faith. If a public personality calls on Christ one day and calls someone a “bimbo” the next, is something not awry? And to do so, not once, but repeatedly? Unrepentantly? Unapologetically? Can we not expect a tone that would set a good example for our children? We stand against bullying in schools. Shouldn’t we do the same in presidential politics?”
President and Founder of Sojourners
Jim Wallis is a Christian writer and activist who has been critical of both Trump and of his evangelical supporters. In blogs for The Huffington Post, Wallis has claimed that Trump’s rise to dominance in the race has brought to light the racism that is still troubling this country.
In a post titled, “It’s Embarrassing To Be An Evangelical This Election,” Wallis wrote about how the word white is “wiping out” the word evangelical.
“White evangelicals should have to explain, on the basis of their biblical faith ... how they can feel comfortable with Trump’s proposed policies of rounding up, deporting, and destroying the families of 11 million immigrants; killing the families of terrorists; restricting the religious liberty of Muslim citizens; banning Muslim refugees; and appealing to the worst and most dangerous instincts of white Americans,” Wallis wrote. “It’s time to put ‘evangelical’ ahead of ‘white’ and to revisit Galatians 3:28, ‘There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus.’”