Opinion

Evangelical Trump adviser: Why I won’t bail on the White House

Ronnie Floyd, from left, Rodney Howard-Browne, Adonica Howard-Browne, Johnnie Moore, and Paula White stand behind President Trump as he talks with evangelical supporters in the Oval Office at the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

(RNS) — One Sunday night this summer, a particular White House staffer popped in my mind. The week before had been a bit tumultuous and I knew the hours this person was putting in were intense.

The staffer had put a life and livelihood on hold to fulfill a patriotic duty, and it had caused a massive adjustment for the family. This staffer isn’t among the well-known employees in the building. In fact, this person is mainly invisible, working behind the scenes, pouring heart and soul into the work.

I’ve made it a habit to immediately act when someone suddenly pops in my head like this. As a Christian, we sometimes call this a “prompting of the Spirit.”

So, I grabbed my cellphone, and I sent this note of encouragement to the person:

“I know another week begins tomorrow & it must feel like they all run together with all you’re tasked to do. I just wanted you to know that I have prayed for you this Sunday night. I have asked God to give you strength & wisdom, favor with all people, & success in all you put your hand to. I have asked God to make sure you don’t miss the meaning in your mission & that you’d find joy in the daily grind. You are so great & so good at what you do. You have every reason to have all the confidence in the world. It has been a special blessing to get to know you. God Bless you.”

The Rev. Johnnie Moore. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

Through my involvement with various members of this administration, and the campaign that preceded it, I’ve had countless such interactions and with so many people. Having been a pastor for a dozen years, I feel it is principally my spiritual responsibility to provide support to these people. I view it as a privilege and a responsibility to pray for them and assist them. Most of those interactions have been with people whose names and stories will never make the news. They just quietly do their work in service to their country. They are spouses and parents, sons and daughters, friends … people like the rest of us.

As a member of the president’s so-called evangelical advisory board, this is my primary responsibility for those who serve in the White House — to be a spiritual counselor.

Similarly, on the morning of the president’s inauguration, I made a promise to the president which I was fortunate to scribble as a simple note in his Bible, just before the morning’s private worship service at St. John’s Church in Washington. I wrote, “Mr. President, not a day will go by when you aren’t covered by thousands of prayers.”

It’s that same pastoral instinct that nearly all of us (evangelicals) drew from in response to the tragic events in Charlottesville earlier this month. It was a time for national prayer, a time to condemn bigotry and a time for spiritual outreach in pursuit of national healing. It was a time for grace and for truth.

Then, I saw a celebrity tweet something like, “where are all the Christians condemning the white supremacists in Charlottesville?” I found it so strange because I couldn’t think of a single Christian leader who hadn’t spoken loudly, clearly and forcefully against it.

Unfortunately, we live in a world controlled by social media “clicks” that reduce complex moments into headlines and inadequate phrases shared with self-selected sets of friends that rarely include those who think differently than they do. We crawl into our silos of “likes” and we too easily turn the marketplace of ideas into marketing of our own hastily generated opinions.

This behavior facilitates our division rather than bridging it, and it robs us of objectivity and honesty. It makes us incapable of having the conversations needed to solve our problems. It makes us a kind of fundamentalist. It makes us intolerant. It robs us of love, compassion and understanding. It wars against our soul.

Yet, rather than discussing Charlottesville’s tragedy sensibly, we lapsed into vicious and judgmental rhetoric with no room for discussion. The president’s press conference was insensitive and some in the press editorialized their coverage of it. Most Americans didn’t watch the whole thing from beginning to end. Yet, everyone had an opinion. It was an important discussion begun at an inappropriate time in an inappropriate venue.

Then, America invested all her energy into fighting herself rather than healing herself, and as spiritual advisers to the White House we were numbered among those especially targeted.

It all reminded me of a few phrases I used to teach my students to prod them to think more deeply, discover the reasons for belief, and to not allow themselves to get too comfortable in their own preconceived notions. I provoked them to seek understanding and not simply to form opinions. I told them “not every reason has merit but everyone believes what they believe for a reason” and “everything is always more complicated than it seems.”

I often encouraged them to “never have a litmus test for friendship” and that “as soon as you think you have something figured out it’s probably the first sign that you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.” I warned them often of only having friends that “believe what they believe and think like they think” and I encouraged them “to take every chance they could to make a difference.” These days I would have added an additional phrase, “you don’t have to have an opinion on everything.”

I believe all these things and I think that’s why I never considered abandoning the administration for a single second, even as harassment from leftist activists increased after they published some of our personal contact information online. I wouldn’t back down for the same reason I wouldn’t have left President Obama or Secretary Clinton had they asked me to be an adviser, even though I largely disagreed with their policies.

You only make a difference if you have a seat at the table. There is a long list of progress we have made with this administration because we took our seat at the table. We’ve provided consequential feedback on policy and personnel decisions particularly affecting religious liberty, judges, the right to life and foreign policy. We are also actively at work on issues like criminal justice reform, and when we’ve disagreed, we’ve had every opportunity to express our point of view.

Yet, we are not responsible for whether we are able to make a difference, but whether we tried. Unlike business leaders with fiduciary responsibilities that are subject to board members, clients, vendors, shareholders and suppliers, as a spiritual leader I must answer to God. I cannot leave my opportunity to make a difference. I will not.

(The Rev. Johnnie Moore is a member of President Trump’s evangelical advisory council and the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. He has written seven books, including the forthcoming “The Martyr’s Oath” (Tyndale, October 2017). The founder of The Kairos Co., a communications firm, he has taken up the cause of persecuted minorities in Iraq and Syria. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)

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Johnnie Moore

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  • You say you can’t think of a single Christian leader who didn’t forcefully condemn white supremacy, but it took me less than 10 seconds to think of Franklin Graham, whose immediate response was to condemn the media for blaming Trump, then to note that Graham condemned “racism and bigotry,” whether “black, white, or other.” If you find that a forceful condemnation of white supremacy, I can only suggest it’s because you’re not their target and never will be.
    Your decision to stay or leave the council is up to you and you should make your own decision. I appreciate your realization that Trump’s press conference was insensitive. My question to you is whether you have to the ability and will to speak prophetically to him on issues like white nationalism, rather than simply nudge him to the evangelical wish lists on LGBT issues, etc.

  • What I think many are looking for is to not let yourself be complicit in Trumps hate.

    So if you think white surpemacy, nazi, alt-right, etc are a problem and not filled with “some fine people” that needs to not only be said, but the president needs to be corrected. Your seat at the table is only of value if you use it to speak truth, not just leverage it for political gain.

  • Funny how nobody ever criticizes Trump for likewise saying that the alt-left, hateful, bigoted, violent, armed left-wing gangs of Charlottesville — led by Antifa and BLM — had “some fine people” on their side as well. Gotta love that PC one-sidedness.

    Meanwhile, Rev. Johnnie Moore got it right. He’s making some good sense here.

  • I think to equate BLM and Nazis is crazy. BLM is asking for black people to be treated equally, Nazis are literally saying “your inferior and should be killed”. How are those even remotely comparable?

  • Trust me, BLM (and don’t forget white Antifa!) is flat-out, wide-open EQUAL to today’s Neo-Nazi’s. Proved it at Charlottesville and long before.

    Equal in ideology? Nope. Equal in historical attributes? Nope. Nazi’s are top villains in those categories.

    But BLM is 100% Equal in VIOLENCE, hatred, weapons (including guns), bigotry (yes blacks can be racists too, but you already knew that), assaults, arsons, intimidations, and even homicides and attempted homicides.

    And if you or I, (any race, any gender), happens to be wearing a police officer’s uniform and happens to cross their path at a street protest — ohhhh boy, you may be wishing you were dealing with some rabid angry Nazi’s instead.

  • Lets put aside all of you unfounded assertions that are, frankly, untrue.

    It still begs the question of why would these groups be comparable. The issue with Nazis isn’t that they are violent or that they intimidate people it’s their ideology. So you can’t just gloss over that. The ideology of Nazis is the issue at hand here. The fact that Trump doesn’t seem to have any concern for sounding like a white supremacists is horrifying.

    I abhor violence, no matter where it comes from. But to compare Nazis to people struggling to be recognized as full and equal people in society is crazy. Look no further than the way the police protected Nazis in Charlotsville. Do you think a bunch of young black men dressed in gang gear could walk down the street with assault rifles like those militia did? no and you know that.

  • “Unfounded assertions”? I have offered multiple, documented BLM incidents in this forum, to show what was really going on. Nobody disproved them.

    You seem to gloss over the huge (yet equal) extremist violence and hatred. You focus on the ideology of the Nazi’s. Okay. But you’re not calling for any focus on the ideology of BLM and Antifa. One-sidedness is a problem.

    Again, the Nazi’s are the #1 villains in ideology. But that does NOT mean you should give out free passes to the #2 and #3 villains.

    Here’s a key piece of BLM ideology: “I think where we are at, is that we are open to a myriad of strategies and a myriad of tactics.” — Opal Tometi, a co-founder of BLM, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor (1-18-2016).

    That ideology puts the door wide-open for every evil BLM incident on the books.

  • I can’t help but to think this. When I consider Jesus in the wilderness being tempted, what would his life have looked like if he had given in to what tempted him? It wasn’t murder that tempted him so his life would not have been comparable to say Charles Manson. He wasn’t tempted to rob a bank, his temptations were much more subtle than that. Had Jesus given in to what tempted him, his life and words would have looked and sounded more like Johnny Moore’s, and mine. That is not so much an accusation as it is grace theology, we don’t quite measure up. But if we claim to live a Christ like life, but nothing about our life is ever changing, are we not making the life of Christ look more and more like our own. When looking at all that is recorded of Jesus in the gospels I just do not see him responding to power the way evangelicals have responded to Trump. Jesus is around the powerful often and he is always recorded as speaking truth to power. Had he given in to what tempted him would it have changed how he engaged the powerful? Is it possible to imagine how his conversations might have changed? For myself I do not want to claim a life that is not changing or being challenged as a life representing Christ. That would be a deception. My fear for this presidential council given their words as a whole, always supporting the presidents words and acts, always justifying their support of those words and acts, is that they have been deceived by similar temptations that Jesus faced. I honesty can not hear Jesus speaking the words they have spoken to this president. I say that not as a “harassment from a leftist activist” I say that as someone who just hears a different message than the one being claimed.

  • You haven’t shown the ideology to be problematic. many, even Christians in this election, use an any means necessary approach. We’ve done so for much of our history.

    I think I places anyone in a tough spot to focus only on violence because many believe it to be possibly good. Like a military.

    So the only question to me is the ideology. Nazis are bad, BLM are good.

  • “Nazi’s are bad, BLM are good”?
    Like I said previously, one-sidedness is a problem here. Confirmed.

    I selected an important, ideological BLM statement that helps readers to see why BLM is the equivalent (or worse) to today’s Neo-Nazi’s regarding violence, hatred, bigotry, cruelty, etc.

    Tometi’s BLM ideology means that, on protest day, BLM won’t hold its protesters and leaders accountable for ANYTHING, not even for fracturing the spine of a helpless police officer in broad daylight. The “myriad of tactics”, remember?

    http://americanmilitarynews.com/wp-content/uploads/St-Paul.png

    (In fact, 21 police officers would be injured from this violent crazy bigoted BLM protest on I-94. Months earlier, this was the same area (Mpls-St Paul) where BLM did those “Pigs In a Blanket, Fry ‘Em Like Bacon” death-threat taunts.)

    But remember folks, “Nazi’s are bad, BLM are good.” One-sidedness.

  • I’m guessing your post is missing some of what you intended. I think if your going to talk about BLM as 2nd to Nazis the idea that they will use any means at their disposal is not ideologically comparable. aging, lots of groups do. so unless we are renouncing Christians, Democrats, Republicans,etc it’s still not even close to compare BLM and Nazis.

    Again, wanting to murder people vs wanting to be treated as people. it’s just not close

  • I’m very grateful that you wrote this post because you very clearly spelled out why so many evangelicals have taken issue with your presence on this advisory council. You have chosen to be a pastor to the few powerful rather than to those who have been living in fear of this administration. Do you have any idea how much dread those who are poor have of this man and his administration? Do you understand how much hatred and violence has been unleashed because of this man’s remarks? You speak of religious liberty progress, but Trump’s Muslim ban has been disaster and caused suffering among people I know. This administration is not politics as usual. If you can’t see that, then you have chosen this delusion. Donald Trump has a long history of bankruptcy, deception, and savvy PR moves to cover both up. This council offers him validation among evangelicals.

    I don’t write any of this out of personal anger or a desire to attack you. There are very good reasons why Russell Moore opposed Trump from the start. His assessment has been wise, spot on, and worthy of consideration.

    Also, several of my friends believe that a campaign I helped organize to contact members of this advisory council is the “leftist activists” you’re referring to. I’m not so sure about that since our campaign organized by Christian authors used publicly available contact information (links to contact pages, social media accounts, and contact info on websites). We didn’t harass anyone but used carefully phrased social media messages and emails that cited several scripture verses that were respectful and direct. We specifically told everyone who participated to be kind. We specifically addressed these council members as pastors, although I can imagine some would have opted for “politicized right wing pastors.” We specifically targeted the pastors on the council who did not make a public statement condemning racism and white supremacy–and yes, you know people who have failed to condemn white supremacy if you know the people on this council. I presume that you’re referring to a different “harassment” campaign, but just in case you had our group in mind, I wanted to clarify.

  • If there is progress being made in terms of Christians influencing Trump, I don’t see it. But that is not the point here. If I were the President’s spiritual counselor, the first thing I would work on is not policies but character. The President’s pathological narcissism makes him hyper insular and renders him incapable of taking legitimate criticisms. In addition, his hostility toward and demeaning words about his critics shows that he knows little, if anything, about the Gospel.

    Hopefully those Christians who remain advisors to the President are not acting as a magic mirror that tells Trump that he is the fairest in the land.

  • “You only make a difference if you have a seat at the table. ”

    is a rationalized variation on:

    “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

  • I don’t see why you perceive it as one-sided.

    I think Nazis and their ideology is bad. I would hope you agree.

    Unrelated to if Nazis are good or not, I think the BLM movement is ideologically good and important. I would also hope you agree that black lives should matter as much as a white life does. Unfortunately they systemically do not. Do I agree with all of their tactics? No. Like I said, I don’t agree with violence. But I think it’s unwise to judge any group by it’s most extreme actions; Muslims and Isis, Christians and KKK, Republicans and Trump, etc. So when I look at BLM what they are working for its good and much of what they do is done in an appropriate way.

    None of that exists for Nazis. Theres no good way to be a Nazi, theres no good iteration of that ideology. That’s why its inappropriate to compare.

  • Are you willing to openly criticize BLM by name for what they’ve done in an inappropriate way? Or do you keep silent on that aspect?

  • sure, but its a time and place issue. It shouldn’t require all of this to agree that Nazis and white supremacists are bad and are not the “fine people” Trump called them.

  • There were no fine people at Charlottesville. Just three vicious, violent, bigoted national gangs. All should have been named. All should have been blamed.

  • You’re right back to the same false equivalency.

    There was violence on both sides and one can debate the value or appropriateness of violence. That is however entirely different than saying those desiring to be treated like people, or those speaking out against racism, are equivalent to the Nazis they are speaking out against.

    Do you think BLM is bigoted? Do you think those looking for racial justice are bigots? I just don’t get it. There were clergy there, are they the vicious, violent, bigots we’re talking about here?

    Trump had a chance to denounce white supremacy and instead equated nonviolent pastors and clergy looking to voice their concerns about racisim with Nazis and white supremacists. Because there were “fine people on both sides”

  • HpO (from 1 Conservative Evangelical Millennial Pretender to another): Wazzup, brother Johnnie Moore, with all this tickling of the ears?

    JM: When many “a particular White House staffer … put(ting) a life and livelihood on hold to fulfill a patriotic duty … in service to their country” would “suddenly (go) pop(ping) in my head” – I “sometimes call this a ‘prompting of the Spirit'” – “I feel it is principally my spiritual responsibility to provide support to these people” – because “as a member of the president’s so-called evangelical advisory board, this is my primary responsibility for those who serve in the White House – to be a spiritual counselor”.

    HpO: Say what again this job description of your “responsibility” as a POTUS’ “evangelical advisory board’ member for this thing that you do: Is that, “I feel it is … my … responsibility”? Or actually “this is … my responsibility”? Which? So, like, when I’m at my Baltimore Clarion’s office today with piles of to-do’s already clogging up on my desk, computer and voice mail, do I have the Trump-Era luxury like you obviously do, to look at them and say, either, (a) OMG! (“prompting of the Spirit”, like, see) “I feel it is … my … responsibility” to do them? Or, (b) “this is … my responsibility”, period! – so just shut up already and go, go, Johnnie, go and do them forthwith, ASAP, pronto and chop-chop? Speaking of which, can I get a better quotable P.R. line from you than … ?

    JM: “Not every reason has merit but everyone believes what they believe for a reason”? “As soon as you think you have something figured out it’s probably the first sign that you probably have no idea what you’re talking about”? “You don’t have to have an opinion on everything”?

    HpO: No, no, I was gonna say, you know – … better than that honest-to-God Johnnie Moore quotable from your interview with Mark Moring, “Liberty Balance: Johnnie Moore mentors students at Jerry Falwell’s university”, Christianity Today, February 20, 2012: “My own hypocrisy. I’m the first to admit it. I’ll probably be a hypocrite five times again before next week, or by the end of the day.” Yeah, that one. Your comments, please. And do also on what Michelle Boorstein reported in “Liberty University’s Johnnie Moore speaks the language of young evangelicals”, Washington Post, October 15, 2011: Your “pastor … was the Moral Majority’s founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who took up an interest in the youth. Moore quickly became Falwell’s protege … a campus pastor … a school spokesman … (who) often traveled with Falwell around the world as his assistant until Falwell’s death in 2007.” So there really are 2 Jerry Falwell Juniors, then? So who’s the Good Cop and the Bad Cop? Which one are you now?

  • J. Moore wrote, “never have a litmus test for friendship”
    You are willing to be friends with persons that fly the Nazi flag, a flag that represents the murder of 6 million innocents; persons who are unrepentant and who continue to spew hateful words?
    You are willing to be friends with KKK members who are guilty of terrorizing innocents because of their race or religion, are guilty of murdering two young girls and many others to express their hate, and are unrepentant?
    Would Jesus befriend such hateful unrepentant persons?

  • BLM’s position: “We want to stop police from killing unarmed black people!”

    KKK’s/Nazis Position: “We want to either kill, enslave, or deport every minority in the nation”

    Yep, very much alike there.

    Its funny how you continue to maintain the same position as David Duke. He would probably congratulate you on your posts. Just not to your face.

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