Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign was thrown into crisis mode on Friday afternoon after the Washington Post released a video that showed him bragging about sexually assaulting women. Things got even worse next day, when CNN released audio recordings of Trump telling radio host Howard Stern that he could refer to his daughter as “a piece of ass.”
The political bombshells sent a shockwave through Trump’s support network, with several of his longtime backers condemning his remarks, rescinding their endorsement, or even calling on him to drop out of the race. Among conservatives—a group that has long championed “family values”—Trump’s comments finally appeared to be a bridge too far.
Yet one group has remained shockingly supportive of Trump: members of his Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, a cadre of pastors and religious leaders tasked with advising the candidate on matters of faith. Members of the board are not required to endorse Trump, and many have refused to do so (although their mere association with him has caused some evangelicals to levy accusations of spiritual cowardice).
Yet almost 24 hours since news of Trump’s comments broke, most members of the board—several of which are traditional leaders of the Religious Right—have yet to comment, and others have either explained away his remarks or reiterated their support for the candidate.
Below is a developing list of what members of the committee have—or haven’t—said in response to the video. (Note: other members of the Religious Right who are not on the committee have also re-upped their support for Trump, such as Tony Perkins of the right-wing Family Research Council, who said his endorsement of the businessman “was never based upon shared values,” or televangelist Pat Robertson, who excused Trump’s comments as him “just trying to look macho.”)
This post will updated as the faith leaders respond. Unless they don’t.
In an email to the Washington Post, Reed — head of Trump’s advisory board and the Faith and Freedom Coalition — the comments were “inappropriate,” but pivoted to attacking Clinton.
“But people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” he said. He argued evangelical voters will still vote against Clinton, saying her “corrupt use of her office to raise funds from foreign governments and corporations and her reckless and irresponsible handling of classified material on her home-brewed email server, endangering US national security, that will drive the evangelical vote.”
“I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns,” he said.
MacDonald, a megapastor of Harvest Bible Chapel church, reportedly emailed the rest of the advisory committee to express his displeasure with Trump. His heated words were republished by Ed Stetzer — a professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical school — and while MacDonald clarified that he did not endorse Trump to begin with, and support he had for the candidate seemed to be all but gone.
The relevant sections are below:
Mr. Trump’s comments released yesterday — though 10 years ago (he was 60) — are not just sophomoric or locker room banter. They are truly the kind of misogynistic trash that reveals a man to be lecherous and worthless — not the guy who gets politely ignored, but the guy who gets a punch in the head from worthy men who hear him talk that way about women.
He then referred to his wife, daughter, and daughters in law.
I have a wife of 33 years, a daughter, and 2 daughters in law. I am not able to offer my time any further without an obvious “change of heart and direction” [that] true believers call repentance.
He called for Trump to seek repentance, and also questioned the true purpose of the council, saying it was “really kind of a joke.”
If Mr. Trump isn’t seeking our counsel now — 1) to be repentant 2) on how to portray that repentance, then the idea of a faith council (which has deteriorated into influence brokering anyway) is really kind of a joke right? I have spent my life helping men get free from such disgusting commentary on women — even writing my doctoral dissertation on self-disclosure of sin among men. I cannot and will not offer help to a man who believes this kind of talk a minor error.
He closed by insisting that Trump’s comments, which have been defended or explained away by other members of the council, are indefensible.
No more defending Mr. Trump as simply foolish or loose lipped. Please pass this on to whomever you deem best.
Bachmann dismissed Trump’s comments as “bad boy talk.” She has not rescinded her support.
Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told the Washington Post he believes Trump is “still the best candidate to reverse the downward spiral this nation is in.”
“While the comments are lewd, offensive, and indefensible … they are not enough to make me vote for Hillary Clinton,” he said, adding he would “not necessarily choose Donald Trump to be a Sunday School teacher” but he still supports him.
“To say Trump’s comments disqualify him from being president assumes that Hillary Clinton is more moral than Donald Trump,” he said.
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, and author of The Gay Agenda, appeared to respond to the controversy by condemning both candidates.
The host of the conservative radio show My Family Talk did not appear to respond to the controversy directly, choosing instead to tweet a message about forgiveness.
UPDATE: Dobson has now officially condemned Trump’s comments, but repeated his support for him over Clinton.
“The comments Trump made 11 years ago were deplorable and I condemn entirely,” he said. “I also find Hillary Clinton’s support of partial birth abortion criminal and her opinion of evangelicals to be bigoted. There is really only one difference between the two. Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not.”
After initial silence following the tapes, Suarez—who once accused pastors who support Trump of “manipulat[ing] scripture to invent false prophecies regarding Trump—publicly endorsed the candidate during an event at Regent University.
“Not only am I a deplorable, but I’m a Latino for Trump,” he said, sparking cheers from the crowd. “They say we don’t exist.”
Suarez explained his support for Trump in a separate interview with ThinkProgress, focusing on his desire to put conservative justices on the Supreme Court and opposition to abortion. He said Trump is imperfect, but compared his candidacy to the biblical story of Zacchaeus, a rich and widely hated tax collector that Jesus converted in the Gospel of Luke.
“My hope has been during these different conversations with Mr. Trump, and being a part of that advisory board, that there will be a change,” he said. “I can’t say here is proof one to and three just yet, but I do believe that something good can come out of that.”
He also condemned Trump’s comments on the tape.
“I can’t defend [the comments],” he said. “No one can. I don’t think it’s fair to disregard the comments. I don’t want to do that. It’s wrong.”
Jerry Falwell, Jr
The president of Liberty University, an influential evangelical Christian school, did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend. His press office told ThinkProgress:
“President Falwell’s High School aged daughter is on Fall Break and the family is spending time together. They are on a short trip. As such, he is not responding to media requests for interviews or comments at this time.”
UPDATE: While Falwell has yet to respond to media inquiries, he did tweet out the following praise for Donald Trump at the end of Sunday night’s debate.
UPDATE 2: Falwell has now spoken to a radio station in New York City about the tapes. He condemned Trump’s remarks, but refused to rescind his support for the candidate, citing the need for conservative Supreme Court justices. He also blamed the release of the tapes on an internal RNC conspiracy.
“I think this whole videotape thing was planned, I think it was timed, I think it might have even been a conspiracy among the establishment Republicans who’ve known about it for weeks and who tried to time it to do the maximum damage to Donald Trump,” Falwell said. “Nothing he said in that tape was defensible. It was just a horrible thing. He apologized. He was contrite about it.”
In condemning Trump’s remarks, Falwell repeated an axiom now common among Trump’s steadfast backers: that he’s not a perfect candidate.
“There was nothing defensible,” Falwell told Crosby. “It was completely out of order, it’s not something I’m going to defend . . . it was reprehensible. We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.”
“We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot,” he said. “I’ve got a wife and a daughter and nobody wants to hear their women talked about in that manner.”
As for Trump’s debate performance, he said he was “blown away,” adding, “No Republican could’ve done better,”
Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, has yet to make any comments himself. But on Saturday evening, he retweeted Dr. Darlette Stowers praising the remarks of Tony Perkins, another member of the Religious Right who has refused to rescind his support for Donald Trump, saying that his support for him “was never based upon shared values.”
Johnnie Moore, an author and national spokesman for My Faith Votes, told CNN he would still vote for Trump, even though he is “disgusted” by his comments.
“Most conservative evangelicals who are voting for Trump have never been under the illusion that Trump has a puritan past. They are more concerned about the present and whether or not he is more likely than Hillary Clinton to protect their religious liberty, appoint conservative judges and protect the life of the unborn.”
Moore also insisted that his vote is not the same as an endorsement.
“I wasn’t on board with Donald Trump to begin with. None of us were asked to endorse him, we were only asked to provide advice and perspective on certain issues. I agreed to serve because of my concern for refugees and for persecuted Christians around the world.”
UPDATE: Moore also sent an email to ThinkProgress, explaining that he never endorsed Trump in the first place. He did not mention his voting intentions.
“Of course, I absolutely condemn the awful comments he made a decade ago. They were repugnant,” he said in the email. “I also haven’t endorsed him, and so I wouldn’t defend him to begin with. I was — and remain — more than willing to serve on his faith advisory council because of my personal concern for all refugees (including Muslims) and my extensive advocacy on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world.”
He also noted that he’d be willing to serve on a board with Clinton, should she invite him.
“As a staunchly pro-life and pro-refugee evangelical, I disagree with both candidates on several issues,” he said. “I believe in dialogue, not partisanship, and especially having dialogue with those different than you. By the way, in my personal interaction with Mr. Trump, I’ve seen no hint of that behavior, and — so far — I’ve never had the privilege of interacting with Sec. Clinton.”
“I’m also not that concerned with criticism or my reputation, to be honest,” Moore added. “I remember that moment in the Gospel of Matthew when someone asked Jesus, ‘why does your teacher eat with such people?’ I’m happy to be accused of such by the left and by the right. We’re never going to get anywhere in this country unless we start talking to each other again.”
After Trump released his video apologizing for his remarks, Rev. Burns tweeted the clip with a 2 Corinthians reference to scripture that states “old things are passed away” in Christ.
(Rev. Burns, once a prominent surrogate for Trump, has since largely removed himself from the spotlight after it was revealed by CNN that he was embellishing his record, accomplishments, and degrees.)
Graham—pastor of 40,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas—published his statement regarding Trump’s remarks statement via Twitter, condemning his boasting about sexual assault but still pledging to vote for the GOP nominee in November.
“I, along with every member of the council, have expressed outrage at such vile language and disgraceful views toward women,” Graham writes. “There is no defense for this very sinful and immoral behavior. This has been clearly communicated to Mr. Trump himself, who has apologized to his family, friends and to the American people. Is he a better man today? I am hopeful and prayerful.”
Graham then goes on to explain his rationale for continuing to back Trump.
“The addition of Evangelical Christian Mike Pence to the ticket, the pledge to nominate pro-life judges to the Supreme Court of the United States, the promise to defund Planned Parenthood, defend the sanctity of life, support Israel, defend the United States against terrorism, protect our religious freedoms, include all Americans in the prosperity of our country, and much more, are the reasons I will vote for Donald Trump,” he writes. “For me, it has always been about the issues — not Donald Trump’s past, but America’s future. Every person should vote his or her convictions and vote for what is best for our country.”
White told CNN that she still stands by Trump, saying he called her to apologize after the tapes were released.
“I heard it in his voice,” said White, a Florida pastor and Trump’s closest spiritual advisor. “He was embarrassed.”
“If he suddenly came out all religious, that would seem staged to me,” she added. “Donald has never been public about his faith, and when he has tried, it has been futile. It’s not his language, but that doesn’t mean it’s not his heart.”
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
Tom Winters and Sealy Yates