Election Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Old-guard evangelicals stick with Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix on June 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Nancy Wiechec

(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.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • “Old Guard” denotes an entity of honor, not some custom suited grifters fleecing the least of their flock.

  • Evangelicals, haven’t you done enough damage with your last half witted candidate GW Bush? How much blood in the middle east is on your hands after the trumped up wars your brother prosecuted.

  • So please tell us again about those **multiple promises** that your liberal pal Barack Obama made to us Americans in 2014, that he would GET ALL OUR TROOPS OUT OF AFGHANISTAN by the end of his presidency?

    (Have the estimated 8,400 end-of-this-year troops arrived home to their families yet? Hmm?)

  • The author explains the story of David quite well. I like to think that David remained beloved of God despite his heinous crimes with respect to Bathsheba and Uriah, but as the author noted the consequences of the sins were huge for David, his family and the nation. Indeed the scripture declares, “the sword shall not depart from thy house.” I’m not sure that Trump’s sin rises, in some senses, to the same level, but the difference lies in the fact that Davis sincerely recognized and repented from his sin…Trump maybe not so much. Yet any of us without sin…Please cast the 1st stone.

  • “these godly guys have a biblical theology that allows them to overlook any moral lapse they wish in a presidential candidate”

    I detect well-earned sarcasm in Mr. Silk’s writing. It’s not really a biblical theology at all for those “godly guys”. It’s a pragmatic approach to figure how best to fleece the flock. Maybe they should form a new corporation, become entrepreneurs! They could name it, Shameless Inc.

  • He was. But Key and Peele, though they can be funny, never seem to understand that brevity is the soul of wit. The bit starts out as funny, but as it grinds away into 5 minutes for two minutes worth of material, they just put on the snooze. We watched them occasionally, but noticed they never knew when to stop.

  • Trump has all of the negative attributes of King David (who was, after all, a cold, calculating, scheming, selfish self-aggrandising, sexual predator who didn’t care who he hurt) and absolutely zero of the positive attributes of King David (the ability to strategise and come up with plans, the capacity to honestly soul-search, repent, to play the lyre and to write great poetry).