Old-guard evangelicals stick with Trump

The 'New Calvinists,' not so much. They know unredeemable when they see it.

(RNS) As scores of Republican politicians recoil in real or feigned disgust at Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, his evangelical helpmeets are standing by their man.

Thus far, the only Trump Evangelical Advisory Board member who’s bailed is theologian Wayne Grudem, who (as my colleague Tobin Grant demonstrates) deserves this year’s Vicar of Bray Award for his flip-flops on the Donald.

As for James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert JeffressTony Perkins, Ralph Reed, these godly guys have a biblical theology that allows them to overlook any moral lapse they wish in a presidential candidate. Thus did Jerry Falwell Jr. justify his support of Trump back in March:

God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer. You have to choose the leader that would make the best king or president and not necessarily someone who would be a good pastor.

As long as we’re proof-texting, let us note that it was before David slept with Bathsheba and sent her husband, Uriah, to the front to be killed in battle that God called David a man after God’s own heart. And that David’s own house prophet Nathan, far from minimizing his misbehavior, demanded“Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” The punishments that followed were grim indeed.

By contrast, when it comes to a Trump, the evangelical old guard is prepared to accept secondhand reports  that he’s established a relationship with Christ — that he’s become, as Dobson claimed last summer, “a baby Christian.”

But there are evangelical leaders who have stepped up and said the right things, foremost among them Al Mohler, in a Washington Post op-ed, and Russell Moore, in an interview with Bloomberg View’s Francis Wilkinson. Like Amos coming down from the hills, they castigate not only the sinful candidate but also his clerical enablers.

For his part, Moore repeatedly refers to a generational divide in conservative evangelicalism. “The engagement of the old-guard religious-right establishment is very different from that of the younger, more theologically oriented, multi-ethnic, religious conservatives of the next generation,” he writes.

By “more theologically oriented” Moore suggests that the younger generation is less open to doctrinal compromise for the sake of politics, but I think something more is afoot. Like his old mentor Mohler, he’s a Calvinist — one of those New Calvinists who are now taking over evangelical pastoral leadership.

Unlike the old guard, which believes that God’s grace is available for the taking, the Calvinists believe that much of the world is unredeemed and unredeemable — including even Republican presidential candidates.

And if that means withholding your support from them, so be it.