Trump is on the focus of the October issue of Charisma magazine, whose cover story is Lance Wallnau’s tale about how God told him that He is raising up Donald Trump like the biblical King Cyrus. This week Strang posted a two-partpodcast interviewing Wallnau about Trump’s “anointing” as a “prophetic” instrument of God’s purposes.
Wallnau said people should pray that God will intervene, perhaps during one of the debates, to unveil a Clinton medical problem or otherwise derail her candidacy:
God is really involved with what’s happening right now. And I think if there was ever a time when the chariot wheels of Pharaoh come off, I think now, we ought to be praying that God speeds his path for His purposes because America cannot afford another 48 months of the destructive spiral that it’s in right now.
Of course, most people would hardly describe Trump’s debate performance as an answer to prayer.
Which brings us to the extent to which Charisma is promoting far-right conspiracy theories. This week Bob Eschliman wrote that Clinton’s much celebrated shimmy after Trump said he had a better temperament to be president was in fact evidence of “medical episode”—Eschliman laughably mischaracterized Clinton’s mocking “whew, OK” as a “Howard Dean yell” and described her shimmy as troubling a “shudder” and “tremors.”
Eschliman is also flacking right-wing conspiracy theories that Clinton “cheated” during the early national security forum and Monday night’s debate by wearing a hidden ear piece that she could have used to get instructions from her campaign team. Eschliman said it could have been a hearing aid, a receiver, or an “anti-seizure device,” adding, “None of these paint a particularly good picture for the Democratic presidential nominee. Either she has an as-yet undisclosed health condition, ranging from mild to severe, or she's been cheating during the televised debates.”
In his podcast interview with Wallnau, Strang said he was worried that there isn’t enough “clear solidarity” from preachers and prophets to get enough believers to the polls. Wallnau blamed that possibility on “the left” and some Christian leaders who are trying to mute enthusiasm for Trump by portraying him as a flawed candidate, “morally or whatever.” Wallnau insisted that isn’t true, saying that Trump “has been on a metamorphosis…a total transformation track.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to make conservative Christians more politically powerful by eliminating legal restrictions on churches’ and other tax-exempt nonprofits’ ability to do electoral work. On Wednesday two Republican congressmen, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Georgia’s Jody Hice, introduced H.R. 6195, what they call the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” which would lay the groundwork for a President Trump to do just that.
Trump has said he decided to call for repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which dates to 1954, when he heard from pastors that it restricted their ability to help him get elected. He has made it clear that he sees its repeal as a way to build Christian conservatives’ political muscle. So it was a bit unconvincing to have Scalise and Hice portray their legislation not as a vehicle for turning churches into more effective political machines, but merely an effort to protect the trampled-upon free speech rights of pastors and nonprofits.
Scalise and Hice say their bill would allow churches and nonprofits to make political statements if those statements are in the ordinary course of their regular work and any expenses related to them are de minimis. In their example, a preacher could endorse a candidate as part of a sermon, and a church could do the same in its normal newsletter. Under their rules, they say, the church couldn’t launch a new political direct mail campaign that is outside the normal scope of its work. But given the massive communications networks that many megachurches and nonprofit religious broadcasters have, this seems like more of a fig leaf than an actual limitation.
Before coming to Congress, Hice was a pastor in Georgia. He said he was one of 33 pastors who challenged the Johnson Amendment back in 2008 with the help of ADF, a challenge that grew into “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual project that encourages pastors to violate legal restrictions by endorsing candidates from the pulpit and daring the IRS to come after them. Not coincidentally, this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday is this weekend, October 2.
Speakers at this week’s press conference portrayed the Johnson Amendment as a dire restriction on free speech and religious liberty. ADF’s Holcomb said it has had “devastating impacts on religious freedom and the freedom of speech.” Hice said it is “unconscionable that our government would force individuals to choose between their constitutionally protected rights or their faith.”
Perkins quoted Martin Luther King Jr. at the press conference, and his commentary on the new bill at the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal features a large photograph of King. Jackson also cited the civil rights movement. But the example of King actually undermines their hyperbolic claims about Johnson Amendment, which was in effect in the late 1950s and 1960s when African American pastors and churches served as moral and logistical focal points for the civil rights movement. They were not “muzzled” any more than conservative megachurches have been “muzzled” in speaking out about abortion for the past 40 years or rallying their members to vote against equality for LGBT people.
Under the existing IRS rules, the Family Research Council has no problem communicating on the issues of the day with the 11,000 pastors in its network. Indeed, there are currently multiple voter registration and GOTV operations being carried out by Religious Right networks through conservative evangelical churches. Trump and other Republican presidential candidates have appeared before gatherings of pastors brought together by Christian nationalist David Lane, who has recruited hundreds of pastors to run for office.
Their First Amendment freedoms are quite intact. But they’re looking for more—the ability of churches, religious broadcasters and other nonprofits to engage in direct electoral advocacy with tax-exempt funds. Speakers at Religious Right conferences routinely blame what they see as America’s moral decline on timid preaching, and they blame that on pastors who are intimidated by the IRS or hide behind the supposed threat of the IRS to avoid taking strong political stands. Charisma’s Bob Eschliman even said in praising the new bill that the Third Great Awakening—a national spiritual revival longed for by Religious Right leaders—cannot come about until the nation’s pulpits are “unshackled from the Johnson Amendment.”
Perkins, who is honorary chairman for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, bragged about the fact that he worked with the Trump campaign to get language calling for repeal of the Johnson Amendment into the Republican Party platform. He praised Trump for making it a campaign issue, adding, “I hope the next time that I’m talking about this could possibly be as he’s signing it behind his desk as president.”
In spite of the column’s title, Erickson uses the colum to reaffirm his unwillingness to vote for Trump, whose campaign he calls un-American. He writes that he sees Trump “corrupting the virtuous and fostering hatred, racism, and dangerous strains of nationalism.” (He also says, for the benefit of those who accuse him of being pro-Clinton, that he believes her campaign is anti-American.)
That I see so many Christians justifying Donald Trump’s immorality, defining deviancy down, and turning to anger and despondency about the future tells me I cannot in good faith support Donald Trump because his victory would have lasting, damaging consequences for Christianity in America. We harm our witness and the testimony of the strength of our Lord by embracing the immoral, unrepentant strong man. We harm our American virtue by buying into the idea that one man can make America great again. Further, we risk losing Donald Trump’s soul for the sake of our selfishness.
Erickson also slams Wayne Grudem for trying to justify support for Trump after having written in 2012 that if evangelicals didn’t support Romney, they would end up with Rudy Giuliani, “a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights candidate who is on his third marriage and had a messy affair prior to his divorce from his second wife. Then we will lose any high moral ground and the enthusiasm of the evangelical vote.” Asks Erickson, “How now can Grudem advance his witness to questioning unbelievers? He now praises an unrepentant man both guilty of and proud of the very sins he attacked Giuliani for.”
In response to a question from Deace about conservative fear-mongering about the consequences of the election—that the country could not survive a Clinton presidency—Erickson noted the same was said about Obama. Erickson says he tries not to demonize his opponents, saying that while he believes Hillary Clinton should be in jail, “she’s no Vladimir Putin.”
“This election is not the end of the world,” said Erickson, adding that the question that people will be asking the day after the election will be “who sold their soul and who didn’t?”
When Deace asked what his vocal opposition to Trump has cost him, Erickson said his radio show has lost advertisers, his kids have been yelled at in the grocery store, and he has had to hire armed guards to protect his house.
As we noted yesterday, conservative Catholic activist Joseph Cella, a member of Donald Trump’s new Catholic advisory committee and reportedly the new “chief liaison to the campaign for Catholic affairs,” joined other Catholic conservatives earlier this year in denouncing Trump as “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States.”
Cella appeared on Ave Maria radio yesterday afternoon and told host Al Kresta that he is now “happily” supporting Trump. When Kresta asked what had changed since the “manifestly unfit” statement, Cella said he has had a “sincere change of heart and mind.” Trump, he said, had convened some Catholic leaders in June to “listen and learn.” He said Catholic voters are coalescing around Trump and predicted that trend will continue.
Cella praised Trump’s public commitment to nominating conservative Supreme Court justices in the mold of the “great Catholic jurist and thinker” Antonin Scalia. Clinton, he said, would do the opposite, and with the next president likely having the opportunity to fill three to five vacancies, “that alone will have far-reaching and long-lasting implications for the Catholic Church” on issues like religious liberty and health care.
Cella also mentioned Trump’s naming of Religious Right favorite Mike Pence to be his running mate and his “excellent” senior staff—he said the Trump campaign’s top three leaders are Catholic.
Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States. His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity. His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.
Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign show us no promise of greatness; they promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.
Cella, the founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, was among a group of prominent conservative Catholics who signed an anti-Trump “Appeal to our Fellow Catholics” that was published by National Review during the primary elections. That manifesto was written by Robert George and George Weigel, neither of whom is among the names that have been reported to have joined Trump’s new Catholic advisory council.
In addition to former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, as reported by Philly.com, the campaign’s new Catholic advisory council includes some high profile right-wing activists, among them:
…Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union; former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R); U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, Republican of Ohio; Jim Nicholson, former Republican national chairman, secretary of veterans affairs and ambassador to the Vatican; longtime conservative leader Richard Viguerie; and Tom Monaghan of Michigan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and the Ave Maria University.
Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.
America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate.
In the recent letter addressed “Dear Pro-Life Leader,” Trump made a number of promises:
I am committed to:
Nominating pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would end painful late-term abortions nationwide.
Defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions, and reallocating their funding to community health centers that provide comprehensive health care for women.
Making the Hyde Amendment permanent law to protect taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.
Trump urged anti-choice activists to “make this contrast clear in the minds of pro-life voters, especially those in the battleground states” so that “Mike Pence and I can be advocates for the unborn and their mothers every day we are in the White House.”
Former Reagan administration official Faith Whittlesey, a member of the campaign’s Catholic advisory board, reportedly said Trump “will fight for Catholics in defense of life, and their religious liberty” and claimed that Hillary Clinton would threaten “the ability of Christians to fully and freely practice their faith that is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.”
One of the giveaways at the recent Values Voter Summit was a new book from Jim Garlow, a California pastor who mobilized churches to organize on behalf of California’s anti-marriage-equality Prop 8 in 2008 and says his daily one-minute radio commentaries are heard on 850 stations across the country.
After getting through Garlow’s “Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Issues,” I was surprised that David Barton was not mentioned in the acknowledgments, because the book is a very Bartonesque argument that politicians should look to the Bible for policy guidance on everything from healthcare to the minimum wage to climate change.
“There is no major world issue about which the Word does not provide basic and transcendent truths,” Garlow writes. He complains that people understand that the Bible applies to their personal lives, but
…when we hear the word political, we shut our Bibles and recoil, as if God has no interest in government, in spite of the fact that it was God who first invented it (Isaiah 9:6). Christians—particularly pastors—seem to run from the political. The Evil One delights over this situation. But a Sovereign King refuses to yield any ground to the Evil One. He intends for us to do the same.
Garlow’s first chapter asks, “Why are we quiet?” Perhaps in a nod to Donald Trump, Garlow says the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which bans overt politicking by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including churches, “effectively silenced and muzzled all pastors.” Anyone who follows American politics can be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the notion that conservative religious leaders have been “silenced” and “muzzled,” but it is an article of faith at Religious Right gatherings that America’s moral decline is the fault of overly timid preachers. Garlow does not like timid, and neither, he says, does Jesus, whom he describes as a “man’s man” and “no wimp.”
We are in a war: a war for truth, righteousness, and justice. The pages that follow are designed to equip you for success in those battles. Welcome to the war.
Garlow says what he’s calling for is “biblical applicationalism” and a return to the idea of a nation founded on biblical truth. He repeatedly says that he is not calling for theocracy, and says he’s not a dominionist. But among those whose quotes he uses to open chapters in his book is Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar. And one of three people he thanks as members of his “spectacular research and writing team” is Gary Cass, who Garlow calls “a pastor who ‘gets it,’ who has a staggering grasp of historical theology and its relevance to current culture.” Cass is a former director of the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. Two years ago he generated controversy with a Charisma magazine column entitled “Why We Cannot Coexist,” in which he said that Muslims and Christians cannot co-exist and that “The only thing that is biblical and that 1400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self-defense.” After the column generated a protest campaign with the hashtag #CancelTheCrusades, Charisma took down Cass’s call to “crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus name.”
Garlow does not call for a worldwide holy war, but he does complain, “Our societal and cultural desire to accept everyone has stopped us from acknowledging the evil clearly written into Islamic tenets.”
Garlow, like Donald Trump, disparages political correctness:
Not surprisingly, the promoters and users of PC tactics are those who typically hate biblical truth, traditional morality, sexual restraint, personal responsibility, the nuclear family, or any other concept based on transcendent, unchanging truth revealed by an almighty God for our society’s good.
Says Garlow, “Unfortunately, Christian religious tolerance has devolved into a secular monstrosity called multiculturalism.” Tolerance is a “weapon” to “destroy and discredit our values in the public square,” he writes.
Cultural progressives will not be satisfied with silence; they want a complete and unconditional surrender. That is the nature of spiritual warfare; there is no peaceful coexistence.
“Religious liberty is under attack from godless, sexual anarchists,” he declares. Garlow, of course, is stridently opposed to legal equality for LGBT people. “There is no God-given right to do wrong,” he writes. “Every sinful act is by definition a lawless one.” Garlow says it is “quite likely” that “there is no such thing” as sexual orientation and he seems to wish gay people would just slink back into the closet. “For years that chant was, what we do in our bedroom is our business,” he writes. “If that is the case, then they should keep their business in their bedrooms.”
Hate crimes laws are, in his view, “inherently unjust” and “are a form of legally justified revenge against someone whose actions violate some standard of political correctness.” And, he says, “Hate crimes inevitably lead to hate speech and ultimately thought crimes.”
Garlow also devotes plenty of space to arguments about the kinds of authority the Bible grants to government, ideas that are grounded in Christian Reconstructionism and have been embraced by much of the Religious Right. The term social justice “has taken a distinctly anti-scriptural meaning,” he says, and liberal churches “cherry-pick the Bible to advance a humanistic (Marxist) definition of economic justice.”
“The biggest problem is that it confuses social justice’s governmental confiscation of private property with authentic biblical justice, which it isn’t,” says Garlow. Some taxation is biblically acceptable, he says, in order to pay for things like national defense. But, he argues, “Nowhere in the Bible is the government authorized to take from the rich to give to the poor nor to redistribute wealth.” That kind of taxation, he says, is theft:
Any forced redistribution of the fruit of a man’s labor violates God’s command not to steal. Theft is still theft, even when it’s the government picking your pocket. Whether by a gun (a thief) or through a tax (by the IRS), the impact is still the same: you no longer have what you earned.
Food stamps are also unbiblical, he says. Not surprisingly, Garlow cites Star Parker, a favorite at Religious Right conferences for her attacks on welfare recipients as lazy freeloaders. Writes Garlow, “Show me a person who uses their welfare dollars to buy lottery tickets and play the casino slots, and you will see as much greed as an inner city slumlord.”
Because he argues that the Bible gives churches, not government, the responsibility to care for the poor, Garlow’s proposal for a “biblical tax code” includes a 3.33 percent tax that would be given to local houses of worship, replacing government welfare programs that he says are rife with abuse and corruption. He says by letting churches take care of people, his plan would be “assuring funds went to the genuinely needy, offering job hunting assistance, and, at the same time, proper prodding of the slothful and lazy.”
Social Security is also unbiblical, according to Garlow. “Biblically, entitlement programs and forced savings/retirement insurance programs like Social Security are never the role of the civil government,” he says. “With the Social Security Act of 1946, the government has stepped outside of its prescribed role and into areas it had no right to enter.”
Besides, “Where does it say in the Bible that we are supposed to retire at sixty-five, or at any age for that matter?” Garlow asks. He complains, “After a life of hard work, Americans now feel an entitlement to unproductivity.” But sooner or later Social Security will collapse and people will get back to “God’s design for society” by “having lots of godly, hardworking children” who will take care of their parents in old age.
Garlow also takes on climate change, writing that “at its core global warming is a battle between two worldviews in direct opposition: biblical truth and evolutionary untruths.” Garlow writes that “all the major global datasets reveal the earth hasn’t warmed since 1977” and “NASA scientists are now discovering record levels of ice in the Arctic.” Writes Garlow, “The reality is this: we’re all just fine. God remains in complete control of His creation.”
Just to do a little reality check on his claims, August 2016 was the 16th straight hottest month ever recorded globally. And while Antarctic wintertime ice hit record highs in 2012-2014 before returning to average levels in 2015, “both the Arctic wintertime maximum and its summer minimum extent have been in a sharp decline for the past decades,” according to NASA. “Studies show that globally, the decreases in Arctic ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.”
On it goes, through 31 chapters. Our educational system “is consumed with anti-Christian bigotry.” Government should do away with no-fault divorce. Unions were legitimate at a time of deplorable and dangerous working conditions, but have “become as abusive as eighteenth century employers.” God wants workers and employers to negotiate without any third-party involvement from government or unions. In a break with the hard right, Garlow does call for immigration reform that offers those who have been in the country illegally a pathway to remaining in the country.
Garlow also takes on the federal judiciary. He calls the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “quite possibly the strongest attack on Christians and Christian values ever written by a sitting Justice in a majority opinion.” Justices, he says, are “knowingly lying about what the Constitution says and what its words mean and, as such, are in direct violation of Exodus 20:16,” which prohibits “false testimony.”
Garlow says there’s no quick fix to bad court rulings because Congress doesn’t have the courage to impeach justices. It will require “America to experience a spiritual renewal, or at least an adherence to biblical values such as integrity.” But he does call for state officials to nullify and defy federal court rulings on abortion and LGBT equality: “We need principled, constitutional, pro-life, and pro-family state legislators and governors to defy the Feds and enforce state laws.” And he calls for individual citizens to nullify “ungodly” and “unjust” laws, citing the Manhattan Declaration’s vow of civil disobedience and adding, “May we have the discernment and courage to do what is right and obey God rather than man.”
In a September 16 post on its website, MassResistance wrote that over the summer Camenker responded to a plea for help from organizers of Mexico’s National Front for the Family. Camenker sent the group digital files of the Spanish-language version of his group’s booklet, “What same-sex ‘marriage’ has done to Massachusetts: It’s far worse than most people realize” and a Spanish version of his group’s video, “What ‘gay marriage’ has done to Massachusetts.” (Among the “shocking” things the video mentions are requirements that insurance companies must recognize legal marriages by same-sex couples and lawyers must learn about legal equality.)
The post says that the California chapter of MassResistance is planning to hold a rally in solidarity at the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles and hopes that other chapters will get on board. The National Organization for Marriage has announced plans for an anti-marriage-equality rally at the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. this Friday, September 23. CitizenGo, a conservative platform for online organizing that has mobilized on behalf of anti-gay efforts around the globe, is also promoting the D.C. event.
Camenker was a speaker at an anti-gay summit that was held in Salt Lake City last October on the eve of a World Congress of Families summit. Camenker disagreed with people who urged anti-LGBT activists to always speak the truth in love. “I think there is a place for being insulting and degrading, and I think I can back that up by scripture,” he said. As we reported at the time:
Camenker said that in the Old Testament, “God has two sets of laws regarding how you treat your fellow man.” One is how you treat your neighbor, who you might work with and forgive. “There’s a whole different set of rules for people who want to tear down society, who want to push immorality, who want to tear down the moral structure of society.” That set of rules is “very brutal,” he said. “God says those people who want to do that must be destroyed.”
He said the LGBT movement is a “house of cards” that is “held together by force, intimidation, and propaganda” and can be destroyed by standing up to it, the way communism was. “We are in a war,” he repeated, saying of gay-rights advocates, “They would send us to concentration camps if they could.”
Rodriguez also has a long track record of posturing as a political independent who is not wedded to, as he puts it, the agenda of the donkey or elephant, but of the lamb, Jesus Christ. Rodriguez, who had been critical of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric earlier in the election process, now says he has had a “wonderful conversation” with Trump and has seen a “significant pivot” from the candidate when it comes to dealing humanely with people who have been in the country illegally for many years.
During the online interview and Q&A session for My Faith Votes, Rodriguez repeated Religious Right alarms about religious liberty, saying that there is a Jezebel spirit in the land, one that intimidates and threatens Christians based on fear and hatred of Christianity and the “biblical worldview.”
Rodriguez fielded a couple of questions from people who are not happy with either of the presidential candidates and were not feeling motivated to vote. He was not having it, telling one person, “In my personal opinion, the number one deliverable from the next president will be the Supreme Court.” Citing the potential for the next president to nominate three or four justices, he said, “Who I vote for has to be connected to which nominee…has committed to nominating justices on the court that will protect life and religious liberty and respect the image of God in every American. That’s what compels me to vote in 2016.”
In response to another discouraged voter, he argued that his very freedom to preach the gospel is at risk:
We have to rise up and look beyond the candidates. We have to look at the issues that are at play here. What’s at risk, truly? Will anything impact me? If I do not vote, will I personally suffer any consequences? Well, if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Bible-believing Christ follower, the answer is yes. There are legislative initiatives right now, that serve, that actually carry the great potential of limiting our expression of our Christian faith.
What if I tell you there are initiatives out there that would attempt to silence us from preaching about what the Bible may deem as sinful, and that speech may be deemed as hate speech, because it runs counter to a cultural narrative out there, a cultural thread or a cultural dynamic? Not only that; recently, as I alluded to in the beginning of this broadcast, in California there was an attempt to punish Christian colleges and universities for believing the Bible and preaching the Bible. It’s this sort of thing taking place, not only in California but across the nation.
So staying home may very well jeopardize my ability as a pastor to reach people with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ. Without a doubt, staying at home carries the potential of enlarging and increasing the number of abortions that take place in this country. How about this: and around the world, because there are candidates that are committed to funding abortions around the world. My taxpayer money going out and helping someone else terminate a life. So if you care about the sanctity of life, and if you care about religious liberty, then you should care about voting this election.
And again, if you can’t vote for a candidate, vote for the platform, vote for the party platforms, and the party platform that best will protect your right to be a Christian and reach others with the loving, grace-filled message of Jesus Christ.
And in response to a questioner complaining that church leaders are not willing to talk to people about how to vote, he said:
Elections have consequences. Because 25 million Christians did not vote in 2012, the institution of marriage suffered a radical transformation via the conduit of judicial and executive fiat. Elections have consequences. Because 25 million Christians did not vote in 2012, we have more and more children that were aborted, and we had an agency in America that sold aborted baby parts, and they were protected…This time, the stake is even higher and greater. The consequences are more egregious and more serious. So I would tell them, if you care about the future of America, if you care about the future of Christianity in America, you must vote. And you must vote righteousness and justice. And you must vote life and religious liberty. You must vote.
The National Religious Broadcasters sponsored a debate on Friday morning between two Never Trump evangelicals and two evangelical Trumpers. The event, held at the National Press Club, was emceed by NRB’s President and CEO Jerry Johnson, who called it a “family conversation.” Johnson, whose own inclinations seemed to rest with Trump’s advocates, was careful to say that NRB members are on both sides of the debate and the group itself does not support or oppose political candidates.
Representing the Never Trump position: pundit Erick Erickson and Bill Wichterman, who served in George W. Bush's White House. Arguing that evangelicals should rally around Trump were radio host Janet Parshall and anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson. The event was structured with two rounds, starting with an Erickson v Parshall bout, followed by a Jackson v Wichterman match-up.
Erickson got the ball rolling saying he wouldn’t tell people not to vote for Trump, but he said that Christians with public platforms should not support Trump publicly “because I think it’s harmful for our witness.” When asked about Jesus, he said Clinton called Him her savior, and Trump gave vague and rambling responses.
Justifying support for Trump based on “values,” he said, runs up against the reality of Trump’s behavior as someone who “has bragged in his books about multiple affairs, including with married women, has cheated widows and single moms and the elderly out of money through Trump University, has stiffed the low-income worker on his buildings, telling them if they want to collect everything they’re owed they need to sue. Why do you go with him instead of her? Well, you say, ‘our values.’ How does he represent our values?...If you want to advocate for that, OK, but how are you advancing the kingdom of God?” Trump, he noted, says he’s a Christian but has repeatedly said he has never repented or asked for forgiveness.
To those who have suggested God could be using Trump like he used biblical figures like King Cyrus, Erickson said God had done that on His own and “has never asked His people to choose the evil.” Erickson said that he’s sure that there were some in Babylon saying “go on and bow, it’s just a statue,” but that the names we remember are those who resisted.
Parshall seemed a bit peeved about Erickson’s arguments. She talked about the supermajority support Trump is getting from conservative Christians and adopted evangelical pollster George Barna’s nomenclature for “SAGE Cons” – Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives. Trump’s support from that group, she said, has grown from 11 percent early in the year to 80 to 85 percent now.
“I’m interested in keeping the republic,” Parshall said. She dismissed the question of Trump’s character by saying that everybody is a sinner and “God has a track record of using flawed and broken people, even when it doesn’t look right to us.” She read a long list of moral failings by presidents throughout history, saying, “We are not electing a Messiah.” She did a similar litany with biblical figures, saying, “Noah was a drunk. Abraham lied. Jacob was a liar. Moses was a murderer. Samson was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Job went bankrupt. Peter denied Christ.”
Parshall suggested that Trump’s victory over the huge field of Republican competitors was a sign of God’s favor: “For those who have been praying and fasting through, during and for this process, have we now believed the sovereignty of God didn’t apply? Did He take off to Philadelphia, as W.C. Fields said? Or was a God sovereign in this entire process? Can God raise up a leader who just doesn’t look right to us, but is exactly who God wants for such a time as this?”
During a Q&A session, Parshall said that evangelicals should look to Trump’s pick of Mike Pence, “who represents everything we evangelicals love and support,” as his running mate. Wichterman said that the vice president has as much power as the president wants him to have. Trump, he said, is not someone who surrounds himself with people who challenge his authority or is willing to hear from dissenting opinions. “I don’t have any confidence that Mike Pence, a good man, will be able to have that influence on Donald Trump,” he said.
In his response to Parshall, Erickson said essentially that yes, we are all sinners, but do we revel in our sin or repent of it? Are we to lower the bar or strive for something higher? Embracing Trump, he said, neither glorifies God nor advances the kingdom. Parshall responded that Christians have responsibilities on earth to be engaged culturally and politically. She said she doesn’t care that Hillary Clinton says Jesus is her savior if she also supports “the denigration of marriage” and the “annihilation of the pre-born.” She said she was interested in what a candidate will do for the country and “first, last, and always, what will you do with the court?” She said the difference between the judges Hillary Clinton would nominate and Trump’s list is “the difference between darkness and light.”
Harry Jackson started the second round, making the astonishing assertion that Trump “may be the only one who’s able to bring some substantive healing to the racial divide,” because, Jackson said, he could help the country by advancing “practical answers” on educational and economic opportunity. Black and Hispanic voters, he said, have too often settled for “the politics of grievance.”
Jackson’s top three reasons for all Christians to vote for Trump were religious liberty, the Supreme Court, and support for Israel. He cited other reasons of particular interest to Black and Hispanic Christians to back Trump, including educational reform, economic development in urban areas, and family-oriented tax policies.
Trump isn’t perfect, Jackson said, but he’s getting better. Besides, he said, a little “organized and strategic chaos” might be just what the country needs to shake up the status quo of generational poverty and explosive racial tension. “We are at a place in our culture that the folks who control the system, their grasping little fingers need to be broken off the controls.”
Wichterman, a former special assistant to George W. Bush who now runs a ministry to congressional staff, established his conservative bona fides by saying that "you’ll have a hard time getting to my right. I’m a Republican because I’m a conservative, and a conservative because I’m a Christian. I believe conservative policies best reflect a Christian worldview.” Wichterman said he had been ready to support any of the other 16 Republican candidates, but is not willing to support Trump. Wichterman said he will vote for third-party candidate Evan McMullin.
Wichterman took on three of the arguments being used to justify evangelical support for Trump: Trump is the lesser of two evils; God uses bad people for good purposes; and Trump is a “good man”—a phrase Pence repeats over and over when talking about Trump.
Wichterman says the lesser of two evils argument is the most compelling. He said he has used it himself over the years, and understands that Trump is more likely to nominate conservative judges. But that’s not enough, he said, because Trump may actually be “a threat to our democratic republic”:
I care about the Supreme Court because I care deeply about the government handed down to us by the founders…Trump, on the other hand, has too often demonstrated contempt for the rule of law. He has sounded more like a strongman impatient with constitutional constraints. He advocates death to the innocent family members of terrorists…He advocates torture, not as a means of extracting important intelligence, but as a means of retribution. He said he would do a hell of a lot more than waterboarding.
Wichterman slammed Trump for praising dictators like Vladimir Putin – who is a strong leader in the same way arsenic is a strong drink – and the Chinese officials who Trump says showed “strength” by slaughtering peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. He cited examples of Trump encouraging violence against protesters. “Trump admires strength whatever form it takes,” he said, which is “inimical to the Gospel.”
Wichterman challenged people who say they won’t vote for Clinton because they believe she’s a liar, but will vote for Trump hoping that he’s been lying and doesn’t really mean what he says. Trump, he said, corrupts his supporters and corrupts “what it means to be a Republican.”
Regarding the argument that God uses bad people for good purposes, Wichterman said that doesn’t mean Christians are called to do bad so that good may result. “I’ve heard some evangelical leaders say we need a bad man to stand up to the bullying of the left…It’s almost as if we’re hiring a hitman to play dirty for the sake of good government,” which is an idea, he said, that “has nothing to do with our faith.”
Wichterman said the argument that Trump is a good man, a humble man, a truth-teller, “completely mystifies me.” He cited a litany of Trump outrages, including the implication that liberal judicial nominees should be assassinated and his reckless talk about rigged elections, which could be a set-up to civil strife. “If Trump is a good man, then I’ve got an entirely different definition of what ‘good’ is,” he said.
In his response, Jackson provided an example of the kind of double standard on truth that Wichterman had talked about. Jackson said Trump ran his primary like a “shock jock,” saying things to get attention, but that he is “growing.” Jackson said that people have been failed by both parties and that Trump can be a “change agent” who can move America forward by “pragmatically” addressing race and class issues.
In his response, Wichterman took on Jackson’s “shock jock” justification for Trump’s comments. What should concern us more, he asked, that Trump means the “profoundly destructive” things he says, or that he doesn't really mean them but says them to get some votes? He thinks Trump’s repeated expressions of admiration for Putin suggest that brute strength is “what he really appreciates and adores.”
He returned to his criticism of Trump’s support for dictators and his dog-whistle on “Second Amendment” responses to possible Clinton judicial nominees. “Is that the kind of society we want,” he asked, “where we’re killing one another over our disagreements?” Wichterman said it makes his blood boil when Trump talks about “knocking the crap out of” people. Trump, he said, is “profoundly reckless” with the rule of law, which is “a precious thing.”
When the NRB’s Johnson started a Q&A session, Parshall responded to Wichterman’s support for McMullin, who is a Mormon, by attacking Mormon theology and Mitt Romney:
What I want to know is why we didn’t have this discussion four years ago. We had a man from Massachusetts who was pro-abortion before he was pro-life, who was supporting Obamacare before he said he opposed it. But far more importantly, because this is an evangelical conversation, I love my friends who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve coalesced and worked with them on many an occasion. But this is an ecclesiastical conversation. That candidate wore underwear that he felt would protect him from harm, believed that Jesus was Satan’s spirit brother and believed that Jesus had returned already to the earth but only to the southern hemisphere. And yet we have a member of our panel who yet again is advocating another Mormon. If we’re going to have an ecclesiastical conversation about evangelicals, then let’s put doctrine on the table and see if that’s our driving factor.
In response to a later “lesser of two evils” question, Wichterman seemingly responded to Parshall’s attacks on Mormons by saying “I know many non-Christians who have wonderful character, and I know many Christians who have deplorable character.”
In response to a question about whether Trump’s comments about immigrants and others had been misinterpreted as “blanket statements,” Erickson said it is troubling that those in the alt-right who embrace a kind of white “tribalism” hear Donald Trump and think he is one of them. The campaign, he says, has made a mistake in “fostering those dog whistles for that group.”
Johnson asked Wichterman about a video created by Catholics for Trump meant to suggest that Trump’s much-criticized mocking of a disabled reporter might have been a more generic form of making fun of people. Even if you give Trump the benefit of the doubt in that specific instance, Wichterman said, Trump has a habit of “unapologetically” making fun of people for how they look, something Wichterman said is “corrosive to our national character” and “says something deeply wrong about the man’s character.”
In his closing remarks, Wichterman said people do not have to give into a binary choice. The founding fathers, he said, didn’t trust majorities, which is why they built in checks on power, including the electoral college. “I think we need to take seriously Trump’s words,” he said, “and we need to stop hoping that he’s just a huckster and a charlatan and just lying all the time.”
Matt Parrott, a “founding member” and the chief information officer of the white nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network, was not fond of a cheeky Washington Post column by Shalom Auslander that said people should stop comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler because Hitler was a megalomaniacal psychopath while Trump is just “a two-bit con man.” Auslander wrote:
The comparison that matters is not, “Is Donald Trump like Hitler?” but, “Are we like Hitler’s willing executioners?”
Are we that terrified? Are we that hateful? Are we that frightened, that cowardly, that selfish, that helpless, that cold-hearted, that dumb, that easily manipulated, that easily provoked? Are we so bereft of answers, so pathetically hopeless, that all we can come up with is easy scapegoating and blind fealty to Our Great Leader? Are We The People really going to fall for the dumbest, oldest, easiest trick in the book?
Because if we are, then we won’t need an Adolf Hitler to embrace that darkness. Even a two-bit con man like Donald Trump will be enough.
In a post on the Trad Youth website, Parrott writes, “Auslander isn’t angry that Trump’s a con artist, he’s angry about the fact that an implicitly anti-semitic platform is electrifying the nation.” Parrott says Auslander’s comments about “Hitler’s willing executioners” mean that he is “accusing America’s goyim of being a bunch of Nazis.” Writes Parrott:
Even if you don’t name the Jews, if you’re putting America First, the Jews will name you. And if you’re not a brilliant and well-connected billionaire with balls of imported Swedish green marble, they will break you. The Jews aren’t so much angry at Trump as they’re angry at the deplorable goyim propelling him to victory.
Maybe it’s not the End of History after all, Shalom. And maybe America will follow the leader of every other European nation in history in eventually awakening from the Jewish spell and driving y’all out. Whether Trump turns out to be the man who rises up from among the people to drive you out of power, what’s been demonstrated is that our human nature hasn’t been fundamentally transformed. White Americans are actually reviving their spirit of racial pride, bucking the Jewish plan for them, and growing immune to the usual enticements and enforcements.
The Traditionalist Youth Network is led by Matthew Heimbach, who believes the United States should be divided into ethnically homogenous regions. Heimbach has praised Donald Trump for “speaking to white interests” and celebrated the way Trump’s campaign has provided fertile ground for his group’s recruiting. Trump, says Heimbach, “has opened this floodgate that I don’t think can be restrained regardless of what happens in the 2016 elections.”