A recent poll shows that white evangelical support for President Donald Trump is at an all-time high.
You read that right. Despite Stormy Daniels’ allegations, despite assertions that Trump had an affair with a centerfold model, despite lingering claims that he consorted with prostitutes in Russia, Trump is more popular than ever among the self-appointed guardians of America’s virtue.
This has caused some hand-wringing among what might be called the evangelical elite. Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson tried to sort it out in The Atlantic recently, and last week about 50 evangelical leaders met at Wheaton College ostensibly to discuss the political divisions Trump has wrought in the movement.
The problem is, as this new poll shows, there isn’t much of a divide. The evangelical elite isn’t speaking for most evangelicals, who continue to view Trump as their political Messiah. The few evangelical leaders who have dared to speak against Trump – and there aren’t many – are dwarfed by people like evangelist Franklin Graham, Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins and Texas mega-church pastor and Fox News Channel fixture the Rev. Robert Jeffress.
Graham, Perkins and Jeffress constantly run interference for Trump. Pressed by NBC News to explain why he still supports Trump in the wake of the Daniels story, Graham asserted, “I believe at 70 years of age the president is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago.” Graham presented no evidence for that claim, of course. He simply chooses to believe it because it’s convenient.
“Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star,” Jeffress said on Fox News. “However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.”
That certainly is interesting because it’s blindingly obvious that it wouldn’t be “totally irrelevant” to Jeffress and his ilk if a prominent Democrat or even a moderate Republican – are there any of those left? – were accused of behaving in such a way.
More to the point, Religious Right groups have spent the past 40 years or so insisting that character counts. Their constant refrain, until 2016 anyway, was that presidents and other top officials should model moral behavior and that it’s unacceptable for a “Christian nation” to be led by a morally licentious person.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this message blasting from the stage while attending the FRC’s annual “Values Voter Summit.” They’ll undoubtedly say it again at the meeting this fall – with absolutely no sense of irony.
The leaders of the Religious Right and their followers love to talk about “family values,” and they often assert that they seek to protect children from the ravages of liberals, secularists, non-believers, feminists, the LGBTQ community, etc.
My wife and I raised two children. Any parent can tell you that there’s a method for transmitting morals and values to your offspring. First, you strive to model ethical behavior yourself to set an example for your kids. But you know you’re probably going to need a little outside help, so you point to others – maybe someone in your family, an acquaintance, a person you may know from a community group or a house of worship or even someone prominent in public life – whose behavior you admire and you tell your children to observe how that person acts and to follow his or her example.
So, today I’d like to present a simple challenge to the “values voters” of the Religious Right: Are you willing to point to Trump as an example for your children and tell them to emulate his behavior?
Either do that or quit scolding the rest of us about our allegedly deficient values, please.
P.S. If you missed yesterday’s “Doonesbury” cartoon, you should take a look. It sums things up quite nicely.