One of the nation’s most influential evangelical Christian leaders is calling for conservative religious Americans to abandon their support for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, arguing he is against “everything they believe.”
On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Russell Moore, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a deeply conservative Protestant denomination which claims around 15 million members nationwide. In a lengthy rant against Trump, Moore expresses frustration with evangelicals who support the oddly-cadenced businessman, who consistently flubs faith questions but nonetheless enjoys “huge” support among evangelical voters: In early August, an ABC/Washington Post poll found that more evangelical Republicans supported Trump than any other candidate.
“Most illogical is [Trump’s] support from evangelicals and other social conservatives,” Moore writes. “To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe.”
Moore, who heads up the political wing of the theologically conservative SBC, argues that Trump’s lack of humility, sexist rants against women, and lack of sexual purity make him a poor fit for the Christian Right. Moore — who interviewed Catholic GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio earlier this summer — appears less interested in Trump’s professed faith tradition than his purported disregard for others.
“We should … ask about [Trump’s] personal character and fitness for office,” Moore writes. “His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord. He tells us in one of his books that he revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the ‘top women in the world.’ He has divorced two wives (so far) for other women.”
Indeed, Trump’s popularity among some evangelicals has stumped many political pundits and religion analysts, most of whom point to the clear disconnect between the candidate’s actions and the expressed values of many evangelicals. Trump has called the Bible his “favorite” book, for instance, but was unable to name a specific Bible verse when asked by reporters — only to eventually spout a piece of scripture that may not actually exist. He also stumbled when asked if he ever asks God for forgiveness — and important theological idea in evangelical Christianity — saying, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?”
Trump, who is Presbyterian, has admitted that even he doesn’t fully understand his appeal with right-wing Christians. He told a reporter in August, “Why do [evangelicals] love me? You’ll have to ask them. But they do. They do love me.”
Some analysts have credited Trump’s rise to his raw charisma, but Moore is unmoved. He points out that in addition to Trump’s uneven faith claims, he has insulted evangelicals and Hispanics — many of whom are evangelicals — in the past.
“He regularly ridicules evangelicals, with almost as much glee as he does Hispanics,” Moore writes. “In recent years, he has suggested that evangelical missionaries not be treated in the United States for Ebola, since they chose to go overseas in the first place … When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?”
Moore’s questions, while rhetorical, already carry some truth. Trump is rapidly losing his lead with evangelicals, with a September Quinnipiac poll showing him hemorrhaging religious voters in Iowa to fellow GOP candidate and Seventh-day Adventist Christian Ben Carson. Carson and Trump feuded recently over the validity of Trump’s Christianity, with Carson questioning whether Trump’s lack of humility obscured his faith.
Moore’s article also raises questions about whether or not Trump actually opposes abortion, which the Southern Baptist Convention condemns, and invokes the words of Jesus Christ to urge his fellow conservative Christians to rescind their support of “The Donald.”
“Jesus taught his disciples to ‘count the cost’ of following him,” Moore writes. “We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.”