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.
Yesterday, the Guardian published an article in which Trump Mahoning County Chair Kathy Miller made comments including that “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected.” Following the article’s publication, Miller resigned her position. In response to Miller’s remarks and subsequent resignation, Dr. Carolyn Hurst, an Ohio doctor, clergywoman and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, released the following statement:
“While I’m thankful that Kathy Miller has resigned and apologized for her reprehensible remarks, the incident speaks to the troubling rise in racism from Donald Trump’s campaign. Miller’s comments go hand-in-hand with other racist language that Trump and his allies use and uplift.
“It’s scary to imagine how much worse this could get for all Americans, especially those of color, if Donald Trump became president. This November, it’s up to Ohioans to reject bigotry, racism, and discrimination through the casting of their votes for one who works to unite us as Americans and not divide us.”
Trump and his campaign and companies have a long history of racism. As just a few examples: His companies engaged in racial discrimination, Trump delayed in condemning former KKK grand wizard David Duke, and Trump has repeatedly elevated white supremacists throughout his campaign.
According to news reports, Donald Trump is set to release today more names of individuals whom he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if elected, a key part of his strategy to win over the Religious Right and the conservative establishment.
The new list includes Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who, as Peter noted earlier this year, is not only a staunch social conservative but also believes that large parts of the federal social safety net are unconstitutional:
Lee also has some ideas about how he’d like to change the Constitution. We wrote when Lee was running for Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010:
He wants to eliminate capital gains taxes and make the current tax system more regressive – more reliant on lower income taxpayers – and says his favorite approach to taxation would actually be to repeal the 16th amendment altogether, strip the federal government of the power to tax income, and leave it to the states to determine how they would tax their own citizens to pay for the limited federal government that would be left.
He’s a constitutional lawyer who’d like to make lots of changes to the Constitution: he has said he supports repeal of the 17th Amendment, which calls for popular election of U S Senators; he wants to "clarify" the 14th Amendment through legislation to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens or legal residents; he wants to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget and to impose congressional term limits.
Other names on Trump’s expanded list are also sure to please those who are hoping to radically reshape American law.
The Trump campaign’s statement boasts that one potential pick, Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young, is part of a court majority that has “embraced originalism and led what one scholar described as a ‘textualism revolution.’” The article in question notes that much of the Michigan majority’s philosophy draws on the arguments of the late Justice Antonin Scalia (while differing with Scalia in some ways).
In 2007, Young wrote a majority opinion upholding Michigan’s voter ID law, writing that it was a “reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction designed to preserve the purity of elections and to prevent abuses of the electoral franchise."
The new list also includes Charles Canady, a Florida Supreme Court justice who served four terms as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s. In the House, Canady was the first to introduce the so-called ban on “partial-birth” abortion, a term that had been newly coined by anti-choice activists to stir up opposition to a specific abortion procedure and prompt a legal challenge to undermine Roe v. Wade.
Also on Trump’s list is Timothy Tymkovich, the chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote that court’s opinion in favor of Hobby Lobby’s attempt to cite religious objections to deny its employees health insurance coverage for contraception. That case later made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in a dramatic reinterpretation of the idea of religious liberty in America.
Trump’s new Supreme Court list is, like his original list released in May, clearly aimed at pacifying social conservatives who want assurance that his federal judges will uphold their policy priorities and by conservative legal groups intent on remaking American law.
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.”
This morning, Donald Trump joined an event for pastors in Cleveland co-hosted by his “liaison for Christian policy,” Frank Amedia. At the event, Amedia repeated his claim that Trump has been called by God to lead the nation, ironically insisting that Trump supporters “want to tear the walls down of division in the country” that are stopping their candidate.
Amedia asked the audience to join him in a “Jericho shout,” a reference to the biblical Battle of Jericho in which Joshua’s army collapses the city’s walls with a trumpet call and a shout.
“We want to tear the walls down of division in the country and the walls that have built themselves up to oppose a man that God has called to bring us to a new place,” Amedia said of Trump. “We are on a journey together. And it is a movement, even as Mr. Trump says, but this movement is also a Kingdom movement that we know God has released running parallel.”
“Lord, we ask you to release a spirit upon this nation to vote and to vote those principles of faith that we believe in so dearly,” he prayed, asking that God might let Trump’s “airplane sail on the wings of an angel.”
At the same event, another pro-Trump pastor, Darrell Scott, warned that Trump is under “ concentrated satanic attack” and boxing promoter Don King declared that Trump will “lead us to the Promised Land.”
Boxing promoter Don King introduced Donald Trump today at the Midwest Vision and Values Pastors Leadership Conference in Cleveland, where he declared that Trump’s victory in the GOP primaries was God’s will and urged white women and people of color to rally behind the candidate “who will lead us to the Promised Land.”
“He’s here by the will of the people and of God,” King said.
He said that white women and people of color should back Trump because they have been disenfranchised throughout history: “Those are the left-outs. Donald Trump says no. We’re going back to inclusiveness; everybody counts. So that’s why when I see them try to ridiculize him or to try to ostracize and pervert—I want you to understand, every white woman should cast their vote for Donald Trump, not for Donald Trump the man but to knock out the system to help him to get their rights and be able to deal with it.”
He also said that black voters should support Trump because they “have nothing” and typically “give away” their vote “cavalierly” and “lackadaisically.”
King hailed Trump as a “doctor of humanness,” a “gladiator” and a David challenging Goliath. “America needs Donald Trump, we need Donald Trump, especially black people,” he said, before telling a story about black acceptance in white society in which he dropped the n-word.
Trump reportedly had asked King to speak at the Republican National Convention but the idea was quashed by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who cited King’s manslaughter conviction.
Gary Bauer of American Values was a guest on the "Point of View" radio program last week, where he repeated his analogy likening this election to Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 after passengers fought back against the terrorists who had hijacked it.
This election is crucial, Bauer warned, because Donald Trump might just be the very last chance that conservatives ever have to elect a president who will promote their agenda.
"In some ways, America is like that plane," Bauer said. "We're careening out of control. We're on our way to crashing into something. We're abandoning Judeo-Christian values and traditions, government is becoming more and more powerful. If we get another four or eight years of left-wing judges on the courts, the First Amendment, our religious liberty rights, the Second Amendment rights, all these things will be up for grabs."
Like the passengers on Flight 93, Bauer said, Christians have to be willing to do everything they can to save the nation in this election because this might be the last chance they ever have.
"I can make a case that this may be the last election chance we have to actually win with somebody that is relatively close to our views on a variety of issues," he said. "The country could change so much in another four to eight years of these policies that we may not be able to elect another person on our side again to the presidency."
Today, Donald Trump attended the Midwest Vision and Values Pastors Leadership Conference in Cleveland alongside his vice presidential running mate Mike Pence and campaign surrogates Ben Carson, Michael Cohen and Omarosa Manigault. The event was hosted by pro-Trump pastor Darrell Scott and co-hosted by Trump’s “liaison for Christian policy” Frank Amedia. Boxing promoter Don King introduced Trump at the gathering.
Scott, who hosted the event at his New Spirit Revival Center, told the audience that a “nationally known” preacher warned Trump before he launched his campaign “that if you choose to run for president, there’s going to be a concentrated Satanic attack against you.”
“He said there’s going to be a demon, principalities and powers, that are going to war against you on a level that you’ve never seen before and I’m watching it every day,” Scott said.
Later, Scott’s wife, Belinda Scott, prayed over Trump: “God we ask you right now that Your choice is this choice.”
“God, I ask that you would touch this man, Donald J. Trump,” she continued, “give him the anointing to lead this nation.”
Earlier this month, anti-LGBT activist Mike Heath of MaineResistance interviewed fellow extremist Religious Right activist Scott Lively, who continued to heap praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin for his crackdown on LGBT rights and hoped that, under a President Trump, similar anti-gay laws could be enacted in America.
Lively, who has called the passage of laws banning the spread of gay "propaganda" in Russia "one of the proudest achievements of my career" and urged the implementation of similar bans all over the world, voiced his hope that President Trump would "delegate to the church the task of shaping the culture."
"I wish we would be able to duplicate that all over the world," Lively said of passing Russian-style anti-gay laws. "That would really solve the problem."
"Frankly, if Trump wins in November," he stated, "then he could turn out to be like Putin in Russia and push back Marxism like Putin did and invite the church to come back in an guide the culture, like Putin did. He delegates, that's his way of governing and his way of doing business and I think he is going to delegate to the church the task of shaping the culture."
"The culture war has always been a battle between cultural Marxists and Christians, always, especially homosexuals among the cultural Marxists," Lively continued, "and [Trump is] pushing the cultural Marxists back and that's his primary target, political correctness, you know, the whole slate of the hard left agenda, he's just pushing back. And that's going to create a vacuum that the church is naturally going to fill because we're the ones who were guiding the culture before the Marxists took it away from us."
Pastors thrown in jail. Religious texts criminalized. Evangelism outlawed.
These are all events that Religious Right activists— inaccurately —predicted would happen during President Obama’s time in office. But sadly, these are acts that are all too common around the world.
Most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attacks on Christians who belong to denominations other than the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But none of this has stopped Putin’s American fans from singing his praises, even while they claim that President Obama has made the U.S. dangerous for Christians.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have enthusiasticallypraised Putin as a brilliant and mighty trailblazer while at the same time accusing President Obama of hounding Christians at home. In fact, Trump has claimed that the U.S. government is specifically targeting him with a tax audit because he’s “ a strong Christian .”
In reality, Putin’s government has done the very thing that right-wing activists falsely accuse President Obama of doing: arresting Christians, threatening churches and permitting Sharia law in majority-Muslim areas.
But it is Obama they falsely charge with being an enemy of religious liberty, and Putin they shower with praise in spite of his well-documented attacks on freedom.
The admiration for Putin from this segment of the Religious Right reveals an ugly reality behind their claims of religious oppression at the hands of the LGBT rights movement. For these activists, it seems, the persecution of LGBT people is actually more important than preserving true religious freedom, even when the welfare and freedoms of other Christians are at stake.
On Friday, “Trunews” host Rick Wiles thanked Donald Trump for taking on “the birth certificate issue” and urged him to “just leave the issue alone until January 20th” of next year, Inauguration Day, when the real investigation into the veracity of President Obama’s birth certificate can begin.
Wiles said that Trump should drop the issue of Obama’s birth certificate, which he said “is not even a good forgery, it’s a sloppy forgery,” until he takes office as president:
The forgery was so, so bad that we could spend hours just talking about how ludicrous it was. Here’s what Donald Trump can do. When he goes in the White House, he will have access to the White House server, right? Obama put his birth certificate—he put an image, not the birth certificate, he put an image of what he said was his birth certificate, he put it on the White House website. That is now government property. Barack Obama is not permitted to remove it from the White House website. That is U.S. government property.
So, if his birth certificate image disappears on January 20, 2017, that can only mean one thing: The Obamanistas cleaned the White House server to get that image off the server before the Trump people arrived. So, Mr. Obama, you just leave your fake birth certificate digital image on the White House website so that when Mr. Trump gets there, he can have an official verification of whether that is an authentic birth certificate. Just leave the issue alone until January 20th.
Trump, like Wiles, has repeatedlysuggested that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery, a myth he continued to promote well after the president released a long-form copy of the document, despite recent claims to the contrary from Trump and his campaign.
Last night, "respected prophet" Cindy Jacobs hosted a voter mobilization conference call featuring right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton to discuss "the significant role women can play in elections and impacting the nation."
Barton's remarks consisted largely of the typical talking points that he has been using in recent weeks to try and convince reluctant Christians that they must vote for Donald Trump in November, including doubling down on his belief that Trump must be "God's guy" in the election because he won so many Republican primaries in which conservative Christians voted.
When a caller asked for advice on how to respond to Christians who say they cannot vote for someone like Trump because of his ungodly lifestyle and behavior, Barton dismissed those concerns as little more than people looking for excuses in order to avoid their responsibility to vote. Citing wicked leaders from the Bible whom God used for good, as well as godly leaders in the Bible who displayed various personal failings, Barton declared that Christians do not have a choice about whether or not they are going to vote because God has commanded them to do so and therefore they must vote for the candidate who is going to promote policies that most closely align with the Bible.
In this case, that is Donald Trump and Barton knows that Trump is God's candidate of choice based on the fact that so many Christians voted for him in the Republican primaries.
"God doesn't always think the way we do," Barton said. "The leaders he chooses, the people he calls his servants are often people that would not fit our paradigm, not by a long shot. But I will point out, I have no clue what's in store for America but I guarantee you God knows what we're going to need 16 months from now, 23 months from now, 47 months from now and it may be somebody that, if we Christians had picked and gotten our heart's desire, would not have been competent for what's coming. I have to believe that with the highest recorded turnout, particularly in primaries and as many evangelicals as voted, that not all of them missed hearing from God. They chose people that we would probably not choose as our first choice. It doesn't matter. God's people showed up and voted in record amounts in this election and I've got to believe that God used them to guide us to what we have as our final few choices now."
"So get on board, you're going to vote," Barton concluded. "Now figure out who you are going to vote for and quit making excuses."
In a segment this morning on “Fox & Friends,” Donald Trump claimed “freedom of the press” was in part to blame for bombings this weekend in New York and New Jersey. His statement was a reminder that he either does not understand or does not like the contents of the First Amendment.
Speaking on the conservative morning show, Trump proclaimed:
“They’re all talking about it so wonderfully because, you know, it’s called ‘freedom of the press,’ where you buy magazines and they tell you how to make these same bombs that I saw” Trump said. “They tell you how to make bombs. We should arrest the people that do that because they’re participating in crime. Instead they say ‘oh no you can’t do anything, that’s freedom of expression.’”
This is just the latest time that Trump has expressed a dislike for the protections contained in the First Amendment.
In February, during a rally in Fort Worth, Trump suggested he would “open up our libel laws” to make it easier to sue journalists, telling the crowd:
One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do, and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws so that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.
This protection was established in the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, which was decided more than 50 years ago. But it clearly hasn’t stopped Trump from wanting to use lawsuits as a weapon against the media: Just this weekend Trump tweeted, “My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent.”
My lawyers want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting
And it’s not just the freedom of the press. Trump clearly views other sections of the First Amendment with similar distain.
In an appearance on “Morning Joe” in November, Trump suggested he would ignore the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause, agreeing that as president he would “strongly consider” closing down some mosques. "I would hate to do it, but it's something that you're going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred—the absolute hatred—is coming from these areas," he said.
A month earlier he said that closing down mosques was something “you’re going to have to certainly look at.”
Trump also has expressed disdain for protestors, suggesting he doesn’t simply want them removed from his rallies but would like them to be arrested and get a “big mark” on their records. “Once that starts happening, we're not going to have any more protesters, folks. We're not going to have any more protesters,” he said.
With these statements in mind, Trump’s First Amendment might look something like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Trump hasn’t served in government yet; if he were in the White House, he might decide that he isn’t keen on the amendment’s final clause either.
In response to Hillary Clinton’s speech at Temple University and her Mic.com piece reaching out to millennial voters, People For the American Way Press Secretary Laura Epstein released the following statement:
“During Hillary Clinton’s speech today, she outlined why she’ll be a strong advocate for millennials in the White House: She detailed her plans to make higher education more affordable, ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, and enact policies to support working families, like paid family leave and affordable child care. It’s Clinton’s stance on these issues, not Donald Trump’s campaign of racism and bigotry, that millennials will show up for at the ballot box. We’ll support Hillary Clinton because she embraces immigrants instead of pushing mass deportation, and she understands the importance of combatting racism, not enflaming it.
“And as Hillary Clinton has made clear, this election will dramatically affect our generation’s future because of the Supreme Court. While Trump has promised Supreme Court justices who’d overturn abortion rights and reject LGBT rights, Hillary Clinton will appoint justices who will protect fundamental Constitutional rights for all Americans, including protecting Americans’ right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections. The next President could nominate up to four Supreme Court justices, and that stark contrast between Clinton and Trump is a big reason why millennials will reject Trump’s campaign of hate and turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.
Back in May, we reported that Ohio pastor Frank Amedia was serving as a volunteer “liaison for Christian policy” for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, setting up meetings for the candidate with conservative religious figures. Amedia, as we noted at the time, is part of a controversial movement of self-proclaimed “prophets” and once claimed to have single-handedly stopped a tsunami from hitting Hawaii.
On Wednesday, Amedia will be co-hosting an event in Columbus in which Trump will meet with pastors in an “intimate setting.”
Amedia sent out an invitation to the September 21 event on Saturday, writing, “I am honored to co-host with Rev. Darrell Scott this important convocation of Pastors and Leaders in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, September 21 to meet with Donald Trump in an intimate setting. I am extending an invitation to you and your pastors and leaders to be our special guests.”
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.”