Businessman and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is now openly attacking leaders of the Religious Right who are critical of him, using Twitter to blast the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm as “a nasty guy with no heart.”
On Monday morning, Trump published a tweet labeling Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as “a terrible representative of Evangelicals.” Moore is an established leader of the Religious Right and has traditionally voiced support for Republican candidates, but has been unusually critical of Trump, who he sees as unrepresentative of evangelical Christian values.
Moore fired back with a pair of tweets an hour later, first by mocking one of Trump’s catch-phrases and then by citing 1 Kings 18:17–19 — a passage from the Bible in which the prophet Elijah accuses a king of “abandon[ing] the Lord’s commands.”
Trump’s back-and-forth with Moore appears to be triggered by remarks the pastor made while being interviewed on “Face the Nation” on CBS over the weekend. Asked to comment on Trump’s rise, Moore railed against the GOP frontrunner, calling him “reality television moral sewage.” Moore then conflated Trump with Democratic party frontrunner Hillary Clinton, accusing both of being morally destitute.
“What we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon as well as in the Hillary Clinton phenomenon is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem,” Moore said. “[I disagree with] conservatives who were saying in the previous Clinton era that character matters, and rightly so, who now are not willing to say anything when we have this sort of reality television moral sewage coming through all over our culture.”
The social media spat marks the first time Trump has assailed Moore directly, but the pastor has levied criticism at the business mogul for months. Moore has written a series of op-eds in both the Washington Post and the New York Times — two in each publication — decrying Trump as the enemy of evangelical Christians, saying he is against “everything they believe.” He also tweeted several scathing criticisms of The Donald while he delivered a speech in January at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school.
Moore isn’t alone. Although Trump — who has been unable to name his favorite Bible verse and who says he doesn’t ask God for forgiveness because he doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong — enjoys support from evangelicals who attend church infrequently and a smattering of prosperity gospel preachers, a growing number of evangelical and conservative Christian leaders are speaking out against his candidacy. In February, the Christian Post — and evangelical publication — took a position on a candidate for the first time in their history by publishing an impassioned take-down of Trump. And last week, at least one Liberty University board member resigned in protest after the school’s president endorsed Trump.