On Trump-supporting evangelicals’ critiques of ‘Never Trump’ elites

On Trump-supporting evangelicals’ critiques of ‘Never Trump’ elites October 25, 2016

Yesterday, I noted an item from Sunday’s Louisville Courier-Journal that caught my attention. It was a commentary by an alumnus and supporter of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary’s two most celebrated figures, President Albert Mohler and former provost Russell Moore, are public faces of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each has publicly lamented Donald Trump’s rise in Republican presidential politics for more than a year. The Courier-Journal published an anti-Trump piece by Mohler at the same time.

My assumption is that anyone with a shred of integrity or honesty must conclude that Donald Trump is a disaster for evangelical political engagement as it finds expression in GOP politics. I have some concerns about that project in general, but that’s another story. Not my tribe, not my problem.

Suffice it to say that I am sympathetic to Mohler, Moore, and all the conservative white evangelical leaders who have spoken out against Trump and the ugly truths he has revealed about the vacuous, vapid Religious Right.

Even so, I find that SBTS alum and Louisville lawyer Jack Richardson, IV gives expression to the standard range of reactions from white evangelicals who are dismayed that their leaders would not only put Hillary Clinton closer to the Oval Office by withholding support from Trump, but indeed also expose and deepen divisions within the Religious Right by condemning evangelical Trump supporters in strong terms.

It might be instructive to hear what a Trump-voting evangelical has to say about the likes of the Reverend Drs. Mohler and Moore.

This presidential election is an existential choice between freedom and a generation of ingrained and institutionalized corruption. There will be no redo in four years if we choose wrongly.

Richardson is off to a typical start, using the kind of language that certain peple trot out every election. The assumption here is that Trump preserves freedom and Clinton portends “ingrained and institutionalized corruption,” and that in four years, America will be wrecked unless we vote for Trump. Note the blind faith in Trump/Republicanism as a bulwark against corruption.

Consequently, the opinions of those that influence the ignorant masses matter, which brings me to the significance of recent statements made by R. Albert Mohler Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who recently weighed in on the presidential election. On CNN and in an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mohler was warning people within the faith community to keep their distance from Donald Trump. Elsewhere they have said they would not vote for him.

Richardson gets right to the point here, naming Mohler and Moore as menacing Never-Trumpers hoisting their opinions and influence on “the ignorant masses.” I suspect Richardson is being facetious here, but as a political scientist I can tell you there is a very live debate about how and to what extent (if at all) elites influence mass-level political beliefs and behavior. Richardson might take consolation in a thousand public opinion polls showing that Mohler and Moore have shockingly little influence over “the ignorant masses.” It’s also worth noting that the small fraction of conservative evangelicals who will withhold their presidential votes from the GOP may have come to that decision on their own, without watching Moore or Mohler on CNN.

I have been a member of the Foundation Board of Southern Seminary for years and am currently an associate of the foundation, a seminary student and have donated thousands as well as given annual grants to professors. I and others on the board could not disagree more with Mohler’s position on Trump. Moreover, many professors disagree as well, but can’t speak out.

Mohler’s house is divided.

Now things start to get interesting. Richardson cites unnamed donors and professors who disagree with Mohler about Trump, teasing the notion that he (and others?) could stop donating.

I’m fascinated by the assertion that professors who disagree cannot speak out. I have spoken elsewhere about this dynamic at Liberty University, where surely many professors are enraged by President Jerry Falwell’s avid pro-Trump politicking but exactly zero have publicly expressed their concerns.

I would have thought there was more liberty of the conscience — more Baptist freedom — at Mohler’s SBTS. But if there is not, that’s worth noting.

Not all opinions are equal. Some are informed, many are not.  Mohler’s and Moore’s “Never Trump” position I find borne of false piety and self-righteousness. In this election, the premise is not based upon the greater righteousness or sinlessness of one candidate over another. The correct premise is comparing the policies of each candidate and how that will impact the nation.
Trump was not my choice, but he is now.

I make no excuses for the man and if he were as bad as Hillary Clinton, his policy positions would still win the day for me.

I’ll let Richardson’s accusation of false piety and self-righteousness speak for itself. But he makes a good point that not all opinions are informed. I often find that religious leaders’ political pronouncements are not nearly as clever or wise as their friends and fans suppose. I would never consult a theologian about political strategy. Some pastors, theologians, and religious scholars, however, have helpful things to say about the ways normative judgments and morality undergird our political commitments, often in unseen ways.

Anyway, Mr. Richardson’s zeal for Trump leads him pretty far astray at this point.

We all know his sins. As scripture says, any man who says he is without sin is a liar. 1 John 1:8.  At least we know Trump’s sins.

We don’t know the sins of the “Never Trump” crowd, do we? Do we know the sins of those who teach and preach in our religious institutions and seminaries?

I’m sure if some of the content of the discussions in closed-door meetings of Moore and Mohler while others were present were disclosed, the hypocrisy of their stand on Trump would be humiliating and humbling. Perhaps that is what is needed.

Now, I have never been party to private conversations between Moore and Mohler in denominational meetings, locker rooms, or other settings. But the insinuation that these men are remotely as unethical and amoral as Trump is breathtaking. Honestly, I still can’t believe Richardson went there and I suspect this is the part of his op-ed he’ll regret most. “Perhaps that is what is needed.” We need audio tapes of Mohler and Moore talking? Such would expose hypocrisy? Okay. Moving on…

It’s not so surprising that Russell Moore is a “Never Trumper,” as he was always fond of reminding me that he was a Democrat. Of course he could never reconcile how his support for the positions of his party was at such odds with his Christian faith yet he continued supporting what is abjectly opposed to what donors who support his institution pay him to do.

In other panel discussions, Moore justified his position by stating, “You can lose an election and live to fight another day.”  No, you can’t. Clinton will pack the Supreme Court with leftists who will come after our liberties with a vengeance.

This is just nutty. A lot of Southern whites were Democrats 2-4+ decades ago. Most of them (except the poorest) realigned to the party of Reagan, Gingrich, and G.W. Bush. Who cares?

As for Richardson’s worry that black-robed tyrants will vengefully come after his liberties, I think this is a case where Mohler and Moore would concede that the Religous Right’s fear-mongering about the Supreme Court went too far.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Photo credit: Louisville Courier-Journal

Does Mr. Richardson take no consolation in Sen. John McCain’s promise to reject all of Mrs. Clinton’s nominees? Probably not, because McCain is full of it. The SCOTUS confirmation process is imperiled and teetering. We don’t know what will happen. So what if Clinton replaces Justice Ginsburg with a liberal? So what if she replaces same-sex-marriage supporter Anthony Kennedy with a liberal? It will be her prerogative to do so. Will it be a setback for social conservatives’ religious liberty concerns? Sure. Probably. But it is literally and figuratively not the end of the world.

The big question I have is how many of the donors and those on the Seminary’s Foundation Board are aware of the political positions Mohler and Moore have taken.  How many throughout Baptist congregations would continue to support the institutions they lead?

LOL.

Pardon my asking, but where have Mohler and Moore been over the last 30 years of Hillary Clinton’s life of political scandal? And, if my memory serves me correctly, they swallowed the camel on Romney (if they are going to be theologically consistent), but choked on the Trump gnat. It’s all contrived and disingenuous if not intellectually dishonest. There is no scriptural basis for their positions.

LOL.

Hillary hates the religious community.

LOL.

The “Never Trump” crowd barely ever mentions Hillary Clinton in their reasoning. All the self-righteous “Never Trumpers'” focus is on Donald Trump.

There is no tomorrow after a Hillary Clinton presidency. There will be no electoral means for a Republican or conservative acceptable to the “Never Trumpers” to regain the White House.

Sorry Mr. Richardson, you lost me. They focus less on Clinton than Trump because Trump is their problem. Trump is the fruit of a broken Religious Right and a broken Republican Party. They cannot control what Clinton and the Democrats do. Moore invited Clinton to his conference last August. She didn’t come. She has no reason to. I have said before that Clinton should meet with evangelical leaders like Moore. But it won’t happen. He will, however, meet with her in the White House. They will fully understand the nature of their disagreements. Better that he not be on record talking about her manifest unfitness for office even if he has, in my view, subscribed to an unhelpful false equivalence.

Wake up! We are staring down the barrel of a permanently entrenched one-party government and ruling class. The penalty for self-righteousness in this election will be the loss of your freedoms.

Go whine about our one-party government to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Whine about it to one of our thirty-odd Republican governors.Jack L. Richardson, IV, Esq. is right about one thing. Theologians aren’t always great political commentators and activists. Moore and Mohler certainly are not infallible. But his op-ed mostly neglects legitimate arguments while leaning heavily on unhinged Clinton hatred.Here’s the difference between pro- and anti-Trump conservative evangelicals. Those on the Trump Train see no serious problem with the process that led to Donald Trump’s nomination (and, by extension, to the party’s rejection of men like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio). Never Trump-ers see Trump’s ascendancy as a sign of serious problems within the GOP and the Religious Right that must be urgently acknowledged, addressed, and corrected.

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