How righteous does David French think he is?
Apparently, sufficiently so to question the character of Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary. In response to Mohler’s recent expression of willingness to support Donald Trump this year in the general election, French underscored the inconsistency (read flip-flop) of the man “I respect a great deal”:
Mohler has not always supported Trump. In 2016, he was consistent with his denomination’s clear and unequivocal statement about the importance of moral character in public officials. He has now decisively changed course.
In 1998—during Bill Clinton’s second term—the Southern Baptist Convention declared that “tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment” and therefore urged “all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”
Mohler so clearly recognized the applicability of those words that he said, “If I were to support, much less endorse Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.” I do wonder if Mohler will apologize. He absolutely should.
Actually, French protects Mohler from explicit condemnation. He uses Mohler’s reversal to lambaste (how many times has he written this column?) evangelicals who support the president. He does so in ways that come close to violating the interpretation of the Ninth Commandment in his own denomination. French writes:
Many millions of Trump-supporting white Evangelicals no longer care about character (though a surprising number are still remarkably unaware of his flaws). That much is clear. But the story now grows darker still. As they’ve abandoned political character tests, they’re also rejecting any meaningful concern for presidential competence.
Those same evangelicals don’t care about the people whom Trump offends (which seems to include French):
When a president declares that there were “very fine people” in a collection of tiki-torch-toting white supremacists, shouldn’t Christians of all colors be gravely concerned? Shouldn’t they be alarmed when the CEO of the president’s campaign and his chief strategist declared just before his ascension to the president’s team that he wanted his publication (Breitbart) to be the “platform” for the racist alt-right? And when a president issues a stream of misinformation about a mortal threat to public health (with one eye on the stock market), is there not cause for accountability?
I could go on and on, but there are Christians in this country – mostly from communities who’ve suffered in the recent past at the hands of malignant government power—who look at Trump and do not see a man who’s concerned for their welfare. What is the white Evangelical obligation to listen to them? To hear their concerns?
Never mind that French doesn’t seem to care much for the motivations that made Trump attractive to his — fellow, read that correctly — fellow believers. The columnist puts the worst construction not only the president’s words and actions — some of them almost three years old and so a bit stale — but also on the motivations of fellow Christians.
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, one of the standards of French’s Presbyterian Church in America, the Ninth Commandment forbids:
all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors…endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy;… neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name. (Larger Catechism 145)
The reason for bringing up this point is not to out-righteous French. It is instead to point out how one-sided his argument is. All he needed to do, even though it would still not be that much more charitable or fresh, is to add, “it seems to me,” or “it appears to mean.” Or, “have evangelicals considered the political consequences of such support?” But French seems pretty darned certain about the meaning of actions of the president and his evangelical supporters.
Ironically, he is amazingly ambivalent about the moral meaning of Drag Queens. Here is what French wrote in defense of Drag Queen Reading Hour with changes to take Al Mohler into account:
Yet the question of how (or whether) the right should respond legally to
drag queens in librariesevangelical support for Trump permeated much of the proceedings. My position was simple — I don’t like drag queen reading hoursevangelical support for Trump, but I also want to preserve for all Americans the First Amendment-protected right of viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities when those facilities are opened up for public usefree and fair elections for any candidate who meets standards to be on a ballot. I don’t want the government dispensing access on the basis of its preferred messages or its preferred speakersjournalists repeating the talking points of the opposition party. Handle bad speechelection outcomes with better speechelection outcomess. Counter bad speakers in the marketplace of ideasevangelical support for Trump, not through the heavy hand of government censorshipholiness shaming.
Some may counter that French was making a legal argument about how to oppose or respond to Drag Queen Reading Hour. But laws govern elections and their outcomes also. French is making a moral argument about a legal and political process for evangelicals. He refuses to do that for Drag Queens. And he is fairly clear in occupying the moral high ground vacated by Al Mohler.
If David French thinks evangelicals who support Trump are distorting Christianity in the process, he needs to consider how Christian his own position is when it lines up with editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic. All of a sudden Christian hegemony is back? Sure.