Of all the twists of the 2016 Presidential Election, none has surprised me as much as the outpouring of support for Donald Trump by the evangelical community. Depending on which poll you look at, Trump has the support of about 37 percent of those who call themselves evangelical. Ted Cruz—by far the most outspoken conservative Christian of the candidates—comes in second at 20 percent. Ben Carson before his withdrawal from the race earlier this week stood at 11 percent. Marco Rubio and John Kasich had much lower levels of support even though both make their faith a central feature of their campaigns.
You’d expect those numbers to be reversed as far as evangelical Christians are concerned. Trump’s track record of profiting from legalized gambling, multiple affairs, various marriages, ruthless business practices, political inexperience and casual (at best) religious convictions would seem to disqualify him. But the opposite has happened, and we now face the likely prospect in November of a presidential election where the majority of evangelicals embrace a candidate whose lifestyle, professional experience, and personality are completely at odds with the values fundamental to their existence.
A few of the reasons for Trump’s support are expressed by well known Christian leaders. Here’s Jerry Falwell, Jr.,pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia and son of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell::
I am proud to offer my endorsement of Donald J. Trump for President of the United States. He is a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again…In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment. He cannot be bought, he’s not a puppet on a string like many other candidates … who have wealthy donors as their puppet masters. And that is a key reason why so many voters are attracted to him.
Robert Jeffress, pastor of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship church, First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX, explains his support this way:
The second thing I know about Donald trump is that he is truly pro-life. I have talked to him in Trump Tower. He believes in protecting the unborn. That is an issue we as Christians care about, and I’ll tell you what, some of you who say, well, I don’t know if his pro-life conversion was real, let me tell you something, Hillary Clinton doesn’t claim any pro-life conversion. if you go for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history. But here is what I finally know about Donald Trump. Donald Trump cares about and loves evangelical Christians. You know, one time when Ronald Reagan was running for president of the United States, the first time, he met with a group of evangelical leaders, and he said, although you can’t endorse me, I want you to know I endorse you. And I have met — I have met with Mr. Trump on several occasions, and I can tell you from personal experience, if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, we who are evangelical Christians are going to have a true friend in the White House. God bless Donald Trump!
There are other reasons evangelicals love Trump, including the widespread anger at the political establishment he so perfectly captures; his status outside a political system widely viewed as corrupt; his promise to fix a broken immigration policy; and his refusal to abide by the political correctness movement that’s choking the life out of our society—all real and pressing concerns. But the more subtle attraction he has for evangelicals is his promise to give us a place at the table and restore our influence. Our sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness in the face of America’s movement away from biblical values has put us in the position of supporting anyone whom we believe will restore America to the way it used to be.
It’s a strange and dangerous situation, exposing us to charges of hypocrisy while distracting us from our main task of gospel ministry.
Russell Moore is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and maybe the most important Baptist writer today. He recently pointed to our precarious position if we forget the disconnect between Trump’s candidacy and our own convictions.
…we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ. If politics drives the gospel, rather than the other way around, we end up with a public witness in which Mormon talk-show hosts and serially-monogamous casino magnates and prosperity-gospel preachers are welcomed into our ranks, regardless of what violence they do to the gospel. They are, after all, “right on the issues.”
The fabric of American society is fraying so rapidly that evangelicals are losing confidence in what the future looks like. But we’re looking in the wrong direction if we see our salvation in politics instead of the gospel. We’d better be careful that we don’t sell our birthright for a bowl of porridge.