Donald Trump’s conservative evangelical supporters have gotten a considerable amount of attention for their loyalty to the president even as he has done and said some pretty heathenish things in recent days, whether it’s the thermonuclear saber-rattling against North Korea that Robert Jeffress endorsed in the name of the Almighty, or the president’s reluctance to condemn the white rioters of Charlottesville, which Jerry Falwell Jr. found quite exemplary. And then there was the equally prominent evangelical Franklin Graham Jr. (son of Billy), who invoked God’s blessings for Trump’s rage-filled rally in Phoenix last night. The largely white nature of the president’s evangelical base was illustrated by a rare defection from his 25-member Evangelical Executive Advisory Board: African-American Brooklyn pastor A.R. Bernard, who said last week he was stepping down because of a “deepening conflict of values between myself and the administration.” Even rarer is Russell Moore, a longtime white conservative evangelical dissenter against his Southern Baptist denomination’s weak knees for Trump and its habit of excusing racism.
But it sometimes escapes notice, particularly by non-Christians and seculars, that not all Christians, or even Protestant Christians, are conservative evangelicals. In today’s New York Times, Jim Winkler, the president of the National Council of Churches, that hardy redoubt for mainline Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, issued a challenge to evangelicals from the perspective of the 100,000 congregations and the 30 million Christians he represents:
Since at least the early 1960s, when one of my predecessors, J. Irwin Miller, put the National Council of Churches at the center of the civil rights movement, our member churches have been committed to justice and tolerance, and have used their position in their communities to rally support against racism and oppression
A few members of the evangelical board have argued that whatever the president’s mistakes, it is better for them to remain in a position to influence him. But they overestimate their ability to shape the president’s thinking and underappreciate the impact that taking a stand against his comments would have.
Indeed, says Winkler (a Methodist), the silence of many conservative evangelicals toward Trump’s misdeeds is more telling than the rationalizations some offer.
I am proud that during the rally and counter-protests that weekend, the denominations that constitute the National Council of Churches were present in a dignified, disciplined, nonviolent manner, and they refused to cower before the white nationalists who were shouting abuse, wielding clubs and inciting violence that caused the death of an innocent bystander.
He’s talking about those among whom the president was so eager to identify (however vaguely) as “fine people.” Trump’s solidarity with the neo-Confederates of Charlottesville has been been blessed by his clerical enablers.
Not the often-forgotten mainliners and Orthodox, says Winkler:
We refuse to countenance a president who gives quarter to those who sow hate and injustice among the American public. Our congregations will continue to witness to a God who loves everyone regardless of race or creed. We need our evangelical sisters and brothers to join us.
The irony is that conservative evangelicals often accuse “liberal” Christians of bending to secular society’s transitory values and uncharitable self-interest. There’s no major figure in American life more secular and self-interested than Donald J. Trump, the man who hates “losers,” celebrates torture, and benefits constantly from the resentments of his followers. You’d like to think the evangelicals who worship Trump’s golden calf of nationalism and worldly success would wake up and smell the brimstone one of these days.