Evangelicals and the Trump train

Evangelicals and the Trump train August 7, 2017


Under the headline “Former SBC ethics czar revels in access to Trump White House,” Bob Allen of Baptist News Global passes along a few choice quotes from the Reverend Dr. Richard Land on a recent radio program.

Land is president of a nondenominational seminary in North Carolina. But he is a well-known figure in the religious right. For 25 years, Land was president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

I know that most white evangelicals initially balked at supporting the foul-mouthed multi-millionaire but eventually came home to the GOP ticket because of their burning hatred of Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and their policies.

But Land sounds really unhinged here. He is not defending reluctant support for Trump. He is fully on board with the Administration’s agenda and rhetoric. Land essentially argues for partisan support of the president on Christian grounds.

The context:

Land told guest host Ronnie Floyd on the July 31 edition of Washington Watch with Tony Perkins, “Not only do we have access, but we have had impact on decisions. We have had impact on policy. It’s a whole different atmosphere. There really is a different atmosphere in the White House, in the administration.”

Some quotes:

“People need to realize, this guy is from Queens. He’s not from Manhattan. When he was working for his dad, he formed an emotional bond with those blue-collar construction workers that he was supervising, and he really cares about ordinary folk and the plight that we’re in and the fact that our government has not been serving us.”

“It is sort of nice when you walk around the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and you keep running into people you know who are evangelical. Personnel is policy, and there are more evangelicals in this administration as personnel than any administration in my lifetime, probably since Calvin Coolidge. It’s a lot easier to explain evangelical concerns to evangelicals.”

I did not know Silent Cal was friendlier to evangelicals than Bush and Reagan were.

Land went on to opine at some length about how to deal with North Korea.

“I think the first step would be to talk to China and say you’ve got to take this guy out. You’ve got to get rid of him through sanctions, or else we’re going to have to do it, and we mean business.”

Land famously acceded to the Bush Administration’s desire to pursue regime change in Iraq. He shepherded along elite white American evangelical support for the 2003 war even as the ecumenical Christian consensus was overwhelmingly against it.

Referring to a July 10 “work day” in which evangelical leaders met with the president and other administration officials, Land said:

“Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer — who actually worked in the Reagan White House — and Ralph Reed and myself all testified to the fact that we’ve never had the kind of open access to the administration that we’ve had in this administration.”

So old-line religious right elites, who everyone says are past their prime, are in fact touting their unprecedented influence and access. Maybe they are still reeling from the way they were regarded in the Bush White House, in spite of their tireless support for that president.

Recall the late David Kuo, a former Bush aide who blew the whistle on elite Republican power brokers’ real attitudes toward evangelical leaders: “National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous’, ‘out of control,’ and just plain ‘goofy.” Kuo again: “You name the important Christian leader, and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places.

So the Trump team is stroking religious right leaders’ egos even as a sizeable portion of conservative evangelicals — many within Land and Floyd’s own denomination — hesitate to uncritically support the president.

Land’s comments amount to a nasty attack on his successor, Dr. Russell Moore, who has spoken out against Trump’s unchristian tone, words, behavior.

Dr. Land, who left his job at the ERLC four years ago, boasts of having the president’s ear even as Moore receives criticism for not having a seat at Trump’s table.

The whole thing struck me as low-class. Floyd, an Arkansas megachurch pastor who is immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, could stay out of Trumpist politics if he wanted to. He gives off the vibe of a man loving the spotlight and jockeying for the presidency of a denominational entity. But given his position, Floyd’s public politicking undermines the thousands of Baptist clergy and lay leaders who are skeptical of Trump.

Land could quietly collect massive paychecks from his retirement job as a no-name seminary’s president. But he insists on sowing disunity among evangelicals, preaching uncritical Republicanism even as many evangelicals reckoning with the consequences of their decades of being the cheapest date in American politics.

In a 1998 interview about the relationship between evangelicals and the GOP, Land told the failing New York Times, “We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage.”

It’s a shame that after decades of shacking up, Land finally got his wedding ring at a time when the Republican Party lines up behind a race-baiting demagogue with shocking disregard for the norms of Christian decency, public discourse, and democratic governance.

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