The dividing line is growing wider between evangelicals who continue to support Republican nominee Donald Trump and those who believe the now infamous “Trump tapes” make it impossible to stand with him.
The video includes lewd comments between Trump and former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush.
During the conversation Trump can be heard speaking about his attempts to seduce a married woman along with encouraging what some are calling sexual assault.
Trump has since apologized for the remarks but that hasn’t halted the avalanche of criticism. One of the biggest rifts comes from inside Trump’s own “evangelical council.”
Mega-church pastor James MacDonald sent an email to fellow members of the faith council condemning Trump and distancing himself from the candidate.
“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,” MacDonald wrote.
“I have a wife of 33 years, a daughter, and two 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 continued.
In an interview with CBN News, Bishop Harry Jackson, who is also a member of council, repectfully disagreed.
“Mr. MacDonald, who I highly respect, is coming from a spiritual coaching point of view. I believe that he thought Mr. Trump was further in his spiritual journey. I think all of us get confused about the language of 11 years ago versus the heart of today…We are over spiritualizing this process. I don’t consider Hillary a Christian advocate. I’m not questioning her faith. I am not considering Donald Trump as a born-again believer who is 100 percent in the fold. I’m looking at their policies,” Jackson explained.
Jackson said the consensus of the council is to stick by Trump for the sake of policy, pointing to Trump’s stance on Israel and religious liberty.
“We kind of came to an agreement on this… We’re not supporting a personality but a set of policies. The policies and the platform of the Republican Party this year are probably the most biblically oriented, pro-church kind of platform that we’ve had in all the years that I have been publically active in politics,” Jackson stated.
But some are questioning if policy trumps the candidates’ morality. Beth Moore, the popular evangelical preacher who usually steers clear of politics, followed suit with MacDonald.
Moore tweeted, “I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it.”
Dr. Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been critical of Trump since the early stages of the race.
In a tweet Moore wrote, “No Contrition. How any Christian leader is still standing behind this is just genuinely beyond my comprehension.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has called on Christians to show a little forgiveness.
“I believe in forgiveness, and we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven,” Pence said.
Former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, a Trump supporter, implored Christians to look at the bigger picture. In an interview with CBN News, Carson said he was “uncomfortable” with Trump’s remarks but brought up the issue of policy, namely abortion.
“I’m uncomfortable with them too. Everybody is uncomfortable with them. But you have to be able to look at the big picture. If you’re talking to evangelicals, you have to say, Which candidate is pro-life, is trying to save babies? And which candidate is okay with tearing babies heads off when they are fully formed and could survive outside the womb?” Carson said.
Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Dr. James Dobson echoed similar sentiments.
“Mr. Trump promises to support religious liberty and the dignity of the unborn. Mrs. Clinton promises she will not,” Dobson said.
Falwell Jr. called Trump’s comments “reprehensible” but went on to say, “we’re never going to have a perfect candidate.”
Prominent evangelist Franklin Graham is among the latest to chastise Trump’s behavior, but he also reminds Christians of the long-term severity of this election.
In a Facebook post Graham wrote,” The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended. But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended.”
“But as Christians we can’t back down from our responsibility to remain engaged in the politics of our nation,” he added. “On November 8 we will all have a choice to make. The two candidates have very different visions for the future of America. The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court. That impacts everything.”
In an article appearing in Christianity Today, Executive Editor Andy Crouch challenges the “Supreme Court or Bust” narrative.
“Most Christians who support Trump have done so with reluctant strategic calculation, largely based on the president’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “Important issues are indeed at stake, including the right of Christians and adherents of other religions to uphold their vision of sexual integrity and marriage even if they are in the cultural minority.”
“Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord,” he continued. “They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.”
The article also rebuts the often used comparison of Trump with the Bible’s King David.
“Some have compared Trump to King David, who himself committed adultery and murder,” Crouch wrote. “There is no parallel in Trump’s much more protracted career of exploitation. The Lord sent His word by the prophet Nathan to denounce David’s actions—alas, many Christian leaders who could have spoken such prophetic confrontation to him personally have failed to do so. David quickly and deeply repented.”
While the Bible calls for forgiveness, many evangelicals question if the candidate has really changed, pointing to the biblical verse, “You will know them by their fruits.”
Election Day is Nov. 8, less than 30 days away, leaving Christians very little time to make up their minds in what is shaping up to be a very historic and consequential decision.