At a meeting with evangelical leaders yesterday, Donald Trump promised to abolish restrictions on church politicking if elected president.
“I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity – and other religions – is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it,” he said, as reported by The Washington Post.
Trump also promised to appoint anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and would ensure that department store employees are required to say “Merry Christmas” during the holiday season.
Trump: Making further inroads with the Religious Right.
Roughly 1,000 evangelical leaders attended the event, which the Trump campaign organized in a bid to shore up religious support for the candidate. Trump also announced the formation of an Evangelical Advisory Board at the meeting, and its members include some Religious Right figures who’d previously criticized the candidate for his impiety. Others have checkered pasts that could trouble voters.
Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is one of Trump’s new advisors, and he praised the candidate yesterday for his commitment to the Religious Right’s values. “I certainly liked what I saw today,” Dobson told Politico. But that’s a significant shift for Dobson: In December, he told The Post that he is “very wary” of Trump, specifically due to the mogul’s casino properties.
“I don’t believe Trump is really conservative,” he opined at the time. It’s not clear why Dobson changed his mind. But he may have been persuaded by the star power Trump managed to recruit. Dobson joins former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., former Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land and a number of televangelists, including Paula White, David Jeremiah and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, as an advisor to the Trump campaign. White and the Copelands, of course, share the dubious distinction of being among the few televangelists ever investigated for potentially violating their ministries’ tax-exempt status. That investigation was launched, and subsequently quashed, by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) after outcry from the Religious Right. Their presences on Trump’s advisory board suggest they may be the source of Trump’s sudden interest in loosening certain IRS restrictions for churches. Land, too, is a strange choice, especially if Trump hopes to win minority voters. Land stepped down from his role as the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2012 after he claimed that a black man is “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” As Aaron Weaver reported for Religion Dispatches at the time, Land had no black employees. But Land has also long promoted a political marriage between the Religious Right and the Republican party. “The go-along, get-along strategy is dead,” Land once said. “No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of marriage.”
It appears that Trump proposed, and Richard Land accepted. Though Trump’s overtures satisfied Land and many of his peers, other evangelicals and conservative Christian leaders still object to the candidate. In a post for Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew Lee Anderson derided yesterday’s meeting as a “campaign rally” and noted that the campaign handed out “prayer guides” to participants.
“The documents provide a bit of insight into the mindset of the organizers of the conference. They are mostly benign, and intentionally aim to be neutral,” Anderson wrote. “But they are generally oriented toward overcoming any internal objections or hesitations or sense of ‘judgment’ about others and the candidate.”
Land’s successor, Russell Moore, also reiterated his objection to Trump on Twitter yesterday. “If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted [negatively] to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know,” he tweeted.
That old guard clearly believes their old alliance with the Republican Party still holds; that Trump, if elected, will assist their campaign to redefine the First Amendment. Their younger allies, however, may be souring on the arrangement.
P.S. Remember, Americans United is sponsoring a petition urging the IRS to crackdown on unlawful pulpit politicking. You can sign it here.