NEWS FOCUS: Trump’s candidacy ‘spells end of religious right’

by - 26th October 2016

DONALD Trump’s presidential bid is dividing not just the American people but American religious opinion.

Evangelicals and Catholics alike are deeply split on his candidacy.

What’s at stake is both individual conscience and the future of American religious politics.

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy office, says ‘the Donald Trump phenomenon … is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem.’

When Evangelicals stood by Donald Trump in the wake of his recent sexual scandals, Moore noted that their theological arguments were based on a number of contradictory premises:

  • To say Trump is ‘a new King David’ defends him by reference to the latter’s sexual alliance with Bathsheba, whose husband he sent off to fight in the front ranks in wartime.

 Or ...

  • ‘pagan deliverer Cyrus’ –  is to say that God can use anyone, Christian or not, to serve his purposes..

Perhaps most telling, Moore observes of his Evangelical supporters’ views: ‘Trump is either a “baby Christian” or the kind of tough strongman conservative Christians need since the Sermon on the Mount isn’t realistic enough for the twenty-first century.’

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) is central to Christian teaching. St Augustine called it, ‘so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life.’

Claiming that the Sermon on the Mount is ‘not realistic enough’ is a tricky position to support.


Trump’s characteristic response to Dr Moore was a rude and dismissive tweet, in which he called him ‘a terrible Evangelical’:

Andy Crouch, executive editor of America’s prime Christian magazine, Christianity Today, suggests that the reputation of Christianity itself was up for grabs.

‘Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbours ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord,’ he said.

‘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.’

Of course, that’s just one side of the Evangelical picture.  Figures such as Franklin Graham, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr represent the other.

Graham, son of the celebrated televangelist Billy Graham, while not endorsing either candidate, has made his preference for Donald Trump very clear.

‘You have to decide which one of the two (presidential candidates) that you would trust to appoint justices that are going to protect our religious freedom as Christians.’

Perhaps the division stands out clearest in the case of Jerry Falwell Jr, president of Liberty University.

Falwell has continued to back Trump,while more than a thousand Liberty students have signed a letter condemning him,but kept their names secret for fear of reprisals.

Two other notable blocs of previously secure Christian conservative votes are also in play.

Pope Francis no doubt swayed many Catholics when asked about Trump, saying, ‘A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.’

The Pope did not endorse either candidate, but his words certainly called Trump’s vigorously stated policy on Mexico into question.

Mormons are another major voting group who seem to be rethinking their previous commitment to conservative candidates.

While not official, the Deseret News is a fair barometer of much Mormon thought, and published an article headed: ‘In our opinion: Donald Trump should resign his candidacy.’

The telling quote in that article comes from Proverbs 29.2: ‘When the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.’


Does any of this matter?

Journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey noted just this week, ‘In just five years, white evangelicals have become much more likely to say a person who commits an “immoral” act can behave ethically in a public role.

‘In 2011, just 30 percent of these evangelicals said this, but that number has more than doubled to 72 percent in a recent survey.’

The way Evangelicals view their religious obligation as it applies to politics is changing, then, but Moore sees the change as striking at the root of America’s previous political certainties.

In a Washington Post op-ed this month he wrote: ‘If Donald Trump has done anything, he has snuffed out the Religious Right.’

In terms of other religions, Trump recently attended an evening of festivities put on by Hindus for Trump, a group supporting Indian PM Modi and Hindu nationalism.

And the Dalai Lama declared himself unwilling to interfere in the electoral race, but found time to give a comedic impression of Donald Trump – his hair style and his pattern of speech – during an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. 


The history of the Southern Baptists begins with the turmoil that led to the American Civil War. The North-South differences on slavery had a particular impact among the various Baptist churches. A Triennial Convention that attempted to keep them united by issuing a non-committal policy on slavery had also failed. While the Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists differed on the issue of slavery, they essentially held the same doctrines following the split. The Northern Baptist churches maintained their independence amongst one another, however the South Baptist churches formed a cooperative body with a central administration.

It is this body that formed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) which now comprises of over 16 million members in over 42,000 churches in the United States. The “convention” itself lasts for 2 days in June each year, where elected "Messengers" from the constituent churches gather to deliberate on matters that concern the entire body.

Historically, the Southern Baptists have tended to support the Republican party. However, following calls by the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to ban all Muslim immigration, the Southern Baptists, in June 2016, voted to support refugee resettlement. Earlier, in 1995, the SBC had also approved a resolution renouncing its racist past, and apologizing for its past defense of slavery.