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Who flipped to join Trump’s evangelical advisory board? (COMMENTARY)

Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr.

Update: Tony Suarez has released a statement about his involvement with the board. The post is edited to include part of this statement. Also included are more public comments from Suarez and Richard Land.

Evangelical leaders have made their concerns about Donald Trump loud and clear. That is, until yesterday when prominent holdouts announced that they were joining Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.

For months, we heard many condemn Trump as an unacceptable choice. Remember any of these?

  • Trump “needs to be canceled like his last reality TV program.”
  • “I would never vote for a king pin within [the gambling] enterprise.”
  • “Donald Trump is a scam”

These condemnations came from none other than so-called leaders who have now agreed to advise the Trump campaign.

Russell Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission summed up the views of many who cannot grasp how once-critics have now saddled up to Trump.


James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, endorsed Senator Ted Cruz in the primary. Dobson said that Trump “can’t be trusted” on issues of life and traditional family values. In the South Carolina primary, Dobson gave his voice to a robocall that a vote for anyone other than Ted Cruz was a vote for Trump.

In an email, Dobson said he was “very wary of Donald Trump.”

“I would never vote for a king pin within [the gambling] enterprise. Trump’s tendency to shoot from the hip and attack those with whom he disagrees would be an embarrassment to the nation if he should become our Chief Executive. I don’t really believe Trump is a conservative,” Dobson said.

Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, is was another critic of Trump. Just a couple of weeks ago, Suarez said that Trump needed to “repent” of his offensive statements. Earlier in the campaign, Suarez said that Trump’s candidacy “needs to be canceled like his last reality TV program.”

Suarez joined other Republican Hispanics who said that they could not support Trump.

“I don’t believe he would have the support of anyone in this room and I don’t think he has a chance of winning the general election,” said Suarez.

In November, Suarez criticized pastors who supported Trump. In a Facebook post that is now deleted, Suarez calls such preachers the only thing more embarassing than Trump’s campaign (this is a cached copy):

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.04.44 PM

Suarez also deleted the tweet stating the same criticism.

In another post, Suarez said that Trump had “crossed the line” when Trump attacked Moore:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.10.49 PM

Moore’s predecessor, Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of The Christian Post. Land also once called for evangelicals to stay clear of Trump. Earlier this year, Land’s The Christian Post penned its first editorial taking a position on a political candidate. Why speak out this time? The headline said it all:

Donald Trump Is a Scam. Evangelical Voters Should Back Away

“Donald Trump does not represent the interests of evangelicals and would be a dangerous leader for our country,” the editorial said.

The editors listed the many problems of Trump including being “a misogynist and philanderer,” his demeaning of women and minorities, “his untruthfulness, questionable business practices, reported association with organized crime, and abrupt changes in fundamental positions.” They even feared that Trump would use his position as president to retaliate against evangelicals who opposed him.

Land went further in his own comments following the editorial.

“…it must be said, before it is too late, that whatever the problems may be, Donald Trump is not the answer. I fear that the millions of Americans who are putting their trust in Mr. Trump will be bitterly disillusioned if he were to obtain the nation’s highest office.”

In explaining his decision to advise Trump, Land insists that there is nothing to see here. He has not endorsed Trump. He is joining Trump’s board to be “salt and light in the world,” just as he would advise Hillary Clinton or anyone else.

We as Christians often ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” Frankly, I cannot imagine our Savior would draw His robes around Himself and walk on the other side of the street and spurn Mr. Trump’s request for spiritual counsel and advice.

Land is correct that the advisory board is not required to endorse Trump. Land has not “endorsed” Trump, but he has said that it was a moral imperative to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton

“Frankly, I think we’re dealing with a choice between a lesser evil and a greater evil, and Mrs. Clinton is the greater evil. That’s my personal opinion, and if we don’t help the lesser evil prevail over the greater evil, we become responsible morally for helping the greater evil to prevail,” Land told OneNewsNow earlier this month.

Some have. But some of the ones organizing the meeting have not. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins calls the meeting and advisory board just a “conversation” with Trump.

Suarez has given a similar explanation. He’s not endorsing Trump; he is simply advising a leader.

I feel that I can best serve the Body of Christ and the Latino community by coming to a table of reason, rather than exchanging rhetoric for rhetoric. For months, we’ve been asking Mr. Trump to not just build a wall, but to build a bridge between his campaign and the Latino community. The formation of the board and his invitation for me to be a part of it gives me hope…Should Hillary Clinton ask me to serve on an advisory board, I will gladly say ‘yes.’ So far, she hasn’t, but Mr. Trump has and he deserves credit for it.

As for previous statements, Land said the use of harsh language was just primary politics.

“I think in the primary season there is a less nuanced way of talking about all kinds of things and as you get to the general election, the nuance of policy develops and you look to the prospect of governance,” Land said after the meeting with Trump yesterday. “I do think all of these issues get an additional layer of complexity and understanding.”

Apparently calling Trump a “scam” is just “less nuanced” phrasing.

Endorsements in this election are meaningless. If someone sits on a campaign’s advisory board, it’s not for pastoral care or for prayer. It’s a political position. No more, no less. Prayer can be given in secret. Advice can be offered to the earnest. This is literally about a seat at the table.

Many of Trump’s advisors were already supporters. But Dobson, Land, Suarez, and a few others were harsh critics until Trump came courting them. And that’s what this is about: desperately wanting to be recognized as a leader in the eyes of the powerful.

These so-called leaders have now blatantly traded in their integrity for a seat at Trump’s gold-plated table. I hope that they enjoy the ride to the top floor of Trump tower, for that is their reward.

Don’t miss any more posts from the Corner of Church & State. Follow @TobinGrant on Twitter and on the Corner of Church & State Facebook page.

About the author

Tobin Grant

@TobinGrant blogs for Religion News Service at Corner of Church and State, a data-driven conversation on religion and politics. He is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.


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  • I have lost any respect I had for James Dobson because of this. How can you not view it as supporting Trump? Are you honestly delusional enough to think you can make a difference. He is using you to court evangelicals! He is all about Trump. Whatever works, he will do. And when you cease to be of use, he will cast you aside. WAKE UP!

  • It’s all about power, money, and dominion for these evangelical power-mangers, money grubbers, and dominionists. They are desperately afraid of losing it, and would rather fondle the testicles of the devil himself than confront that and act with principle. Three times married, adulterous and formicating Trump, Two Corinthians trump, fear mongering trump is right up their back alley.

    When rMoney was running for president, billy Graham, who had been fairly anti-Mormon, endorsed him and scrubbed all of the anti Mormon references from his website. So did most of these bozos.

    Power trumps politics trumps principle, every single time.

  • Always ambivalent about Christian leaders getting too cozy with politicians, particularly when changing dynamics cause them to scramble for cover. Publicity, celebrity, and notoriety are a dangerous brew for anyone of purported principles to imbibe

  • Floydlee, I guess I’m probably as conservative, traditional, and committed to Christ as you, but I’m not counting on Trump to help preserve America. My vote for Trump will be a negative against Hillary, who I deplore even more. Merely a hope for the lesser of two evils, because Trump has done and said nothing to convince me he has the least clue about Christian principles.

  • Donald Trump is clearly against the teachings of Christ. He may not be THE (He is a narcissist) ANTI-Christ but he does come across as somebody Old Slick had, has in mind as a model for that future role.

  • It’s one thing to exercise your responsibilities as a citizen and another to align yourself with the principalities and powers of this world. The first is our duty, but the second is always a loosing strategy for a Christian. Try as they might to maintain their integrity, these Christians will find themselves used, abused, and quickly discarded. It’s the way the World works. They should know better.

  • That old “render unto Caesar” thing , and that silliness about needles and desert quadrupeds, are no where near as attractive as power, money, and dominion, and the special feeling such religious politicians get when they think they they are God’s extra special friends.

  • Nothing happens unless the christian god wants it. christians say that time and time again. christian god answers all prayers. christians (such as Franklin Graham) say that all the time. Graham has been criss-crossing the country praying for the christian god to cause christian leaders that follow Graham’s views to be elected.
    So if Hillary is elected, it’s because christian god wants it.
    Of course, if that happens, christians, as usual, will forget all about the massive prayers they made to christian god, and all their claims that christian god answers all prayers, and then will trot out their usual list of excuses for why it didn’t go their way (not enough people prayed [does christian god actually count noses????]/christian god works in mysterious ways/christian god uses evil for god/christian god gives men over to reprobate hearts/country is so evil christian god ignores us).

  • Time for Trump’s Evangelical support to do what Evangelicals are generally very good at doing: raising money for pointless causes and enriching demagogues. His campaign is in heavy debt to himself. He has been using campaign funds to pay his own companies.

    http://www.theatlantic dot com/politics/archive/2016/06/donald-trump-campaign-debt-fec-loans/488183/

  • Nicole,

    That doesn’t strike me as a very convincing letter. The Dobsons were clearly authoritarian troglodytes before Trump came along, and they or he only support Cruz because Attila the Hun and Heinrich Himmler aren’t running.

    Kirche, Kuche, Kinder has always been the Dobson family’s program, but if it took Trump to make you see that fact, then Golden Boy has done one good thing this election cycle, hasn’t he?



  • You mean “Trump,” the person “trumps” Hillary, as in card games?

    That’s very witty. Thank you for your contribution to the political dialogue.

    I think the Republican Party can find a place for you, perhaps in educating their speechwriters and raising the level of discourse.

    Are you equally good at math? Perhaps Paul Ryan can use you in his budget shop.


  • It’s understandable that those who weaponized religion would prefer a backsliding Presbyterian whose knowledge of the bible is best summarized by his identifying one of its books as “Two Corinthians” over a principled United Methodist whose faith informed her work in politics.

  • I easily embrace the two references you cite as having value, if my understanding is correct Ben, you tend towards atheism philosophically, so I can understand your perspective on religion even though we disagree. But Jesus’ observations were valid regarding the dangers of co-mingling the political and religious spheres, which I think is your point, though everyone is entitled to live out a personal philosophy, even politicians. As far as the camel and the eye of the needle, it’s a fair analogy for the dangers wealth can present to those who have it.

  • If Hillary wins, as well she might, God may not want it, but in His divine sovereignty will certainly allow it.

  • The weaponization of religion is hardly a new concept, nor unique to conservative Christians in America (allowing your point). But, to the degree that faith informed Hillary’s politics, I would submit that such was during the dewy-eyed idealism of her youth. We are dealing with a much more cynical, harder edged, and opportunistic individual today.

  • Perhaps Trump lured these Evangelicals into his camp by telling them that his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” should be interpreted as meaning “Make America Straight Again.”

  • Certainly. 44years fighting the enemies of freedom provides heroes like The Secretary with the skills they need to get the job done. And through it all she has never wavered.


  • Hillary is pretty good at fighting against the freedoms of those who disagree with her.

  • That’s an interesting comment. Apparently you count yourself among “those who disagree with [Clinton],” ne’s ce pas? Okay, so you had the freedom to post that here, right? No one from Homeland Security or whatever is monitoring your activities such as this. You have the freedom to speak your mind. You have the freedom to freely associate with like minded individuals over whatever you want. You have the freedom to petition the government. You have the freedom to shop at Target or boycott Target or to ask “What’s Target?” if you want. If accused of a crime you have a right to a trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable search and seizures, not being subjected to an ex post facto law, freedom from self-incrimination, etc. You have a right to basic nutrition if you’re down and out, however by volunteer agencies like your local homeless shelter. You have a right to send your children to public school. You have a right to salute the flag or to refuse to salute the flag. You have a right to read what you want. With all these facts being established I dispute your assertion as an argument for which evidence is nonexistent.

  • To use a tired metaphor. It all depends on whose ox is being gored. I try to fill my personal library with books written from both sides of most issues, I’ve read enough about Hillary over the years to conclude she is a subtle adversary with the instincts of a gutter fighter who fights for her particular point of view, but not particularly in a principled way, but that’s not unusual for lifelong politicians. In this respect she does not differ from most of the political class. From your point of view, I would no doubt, be considered an enemy of freedom, I merely reserve the right to so view Hillary, from the opposite side of the political spectrum. You say Toe-May-Toe, I say Toe-Maw-Toe. Let’s leave it at that for now.

  • Thank you Tobin. Not enough conservative believer’s such as yourself articulating this. I am a Reagan conservative and loathe both candidates…as candidates. I could never vote for Ms. Clinton based first on her liberal policies however, I don’t believe that Mr. Trump’s complete lack of character, not to mention his willful lack of knowledge, should be rewarded with my vote. I can only hope is for the improbable that there is a revolt at the GOP convention and Mr. Trump is not the nominee. If not, I will not vote for either.

  • You have every right to be.

    This part: “s…” I wish the Bernie Bros could get that.he is a subtle adversary with the instincts of a gutter fighter who fights for her particular point of view

  • “If someone sits on a campaign’s advisory board, it’s not for pastoral care or for prayer. It’s a political position.”

    Exactly. These people have endorsed Trump – and they will be associated with whatever he says, however he acts.

    So sad. We need religious leaders of integrity to stand up and what we get is those who fold. Is it any wonder our children are not coming to our places of worship?

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