[Correction: RNS is publishing a response by Grudem to my original post:"What I wrote was completely truthful." After receiving his response, I revised my original post. Grudem could not and did not know about Donald Trump's confession of sexual assault prior to the release of the video this weekend. I have revised the post to make clear that Grudem was not aware of these facts. I have also attempted to clarify the difference between Grudem's new information and Grudem's understanding of Trump's past that he had previously accounted in detail when he unequivocally condemned Trump as morally unfit for the presidency. Unfortunately, the video of Grudem's February address to pastors was removed from YouTube by the Illinois Family Institute after my original post. In response to my request for comment, Grudem stated that he had nothing to do with the removal of the video.]
The video of Donald Trump bragging about his infidelity and describing his assaults on women have put many of his supporters in a bind. Do they stick with Trump? If they rescind their support, how do they justify turning on him now and not sooner?
Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem was in a particularly sticky situation. Grudem is a thought-leader to many evangelicals. His book on theology is (literally) required reading in many evangelical churches. Because of this, his defense of Donald Trump as “a morally good choice” drew a lot of attention among evangelicals.
Then came the video of Trump boasting of his infidelity, attempts to sleep with a married woman, and his sexual assaults on women. Grudem wrote a new essay and had Townhall.com take down his previous defense of Trump. An archived copy of his July essay is still available.
But this isn't the story of a theologian who came to his senses. This is the story of a theologian who in February railed against Trump as morally disqualified for the presidency, downplayed Trump's past as a mere "flaw" in July, and now claims he was ignorant of Trump's past now that Trump has become too embarrassing for a theologian to support.
In his updated assessment of the ethics of voting Trump, Grudem stated,
I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.
He says he came to this new conclusion after seeing the video of Trump, which opened his eyes to Trump's immorality.
His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). I have now read transcripts of some of his obscene interviews with Howard Stern, and they turned my stomach. His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.
The video made Trump's words and actions clear, but they were not surprising. This is not a case of a hypocrite being caught in a lie. Trump had a history of bragging about his infidelity and sexual behavior. So why turn on Trump now based on his moral character?
Grudem states in a statement to RNS that there was now evidence of repeated sexual assaults, a confession about attempting to seduce a woman, and Trump treating his daughter as a sex object.
While these are new pieces of evidence, Grudem also states that he should have known about these allegations. He said he didn't enough research:
Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump.
No one would expect Grudem to know about transcripts or videos that were not available until this past week. So what is it that Grudem should have known but didn't because he didn't investigate them? On the one hand, Grudem says that the video provides new findings that no one had previously; on the other hand, he says that he should have known about them.
The problem with this I-didn't-do-my-homework excuse is that Grudem is on record of knowing about Trump's boasts of infidelity and exploitation of women. In February, he stated unequivocally that such behavior disqualifies a candidate from being president.
In his July endorsement, Grudem acknowledged Trump's past.
“[Trump] has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages,” Grudem said. “These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.”
But the real evidence of Grudem's understanding of Trump's moral character comes from a video of an address he gave to pastors during an Illinois Family Institute event in February. [This video was removed from YouTube after this post was published October 11].
In his address to pastors, Grudem stated again and again that Trump's infidelity and moral character disqualified Trump “because a man who cannot be trusted to be faithful in his marriage cannot be trusted to lead the most powerful nation on earth.”
Grudem was explicit about Trump boasting about his infidelity and sexual past:
Now we have a Republican candidate leading in many polls who boasts that he has slept with many women, married and unmarried, many of the most beautiful women in the world. He boasts about it and yet he is leading in many polls. Does a man’s moral character no longer matter in choosing someone to be the most powerful man in the world?
Grudem went further, recounting that Trump made millions of dollars on casinos and strip clubs. Grudem said that these strip clubs “scarred the souls” of women and men.
Grudem called on pastors to speak out that “moral character matters” and to remind themselves that “moral character matters” when they are tempted to vote for Trump.
During his talk, Grudem avoided saying the name “Trump.” Instead, in the middle of his discussion of Trump's past, Grudem joked, “I'm not going to mention the candidate's name. If you don’t know, you have no business voting.”
The audience laughed because they knew Trump and his character. So did Grudem.
But now, in the aftermath of Trump's so-called locker-room banter video, Grudem expects evangelicals to believe that he did not know Trump lacked the moral character to be president. In February, he was willing and able to rattle off Trump's immoral behaviors, including his boasts of infidelity, in a forceful charge that Trump's moral character made him unfit for office.
Grudem is acting as if now---and only now---he has enough information to conclude that Trump lacks the moral character required to be president. He says that he was only saying that Republicans should make a different choice and that in the general election it was okay to vote for someone who had committed adultery (so long as the other candidate was someone like Hillary Clinton).
The video shows a different story. Grudem states that adultery disqualifies a man from being president. He condemned Trump as not only of infidelity but of bragging about his behavior. He said Trump exploited women by making millions off strip clubs. He called on pastors to talk about Trump's treatment of women and to not be tempted to back Trump. It is a forceful, informed rebuke of Trump as morally unfit to ever be "the most powerful man on the planet."
Unfortunately, you'll need to take my word for it (or not). The video is no longer available.