Politics & Policy

Don’t Bend Your Knee to Trump, Evangelicals

Trump speaks at a rally in Phoenix, Ariz., June 19, 2016. (Nancy Wiechec/Reuters)
A candidate who subverts all of our most cherished values should be avoided at all costs.

Tomorrow, hundreds of Evangelical leaders will gather in New York City to meet with Donald Trump. I must confess that I don’t understand their purpose.

I suspect that it will be exactly the kind of meeting that Trump wants: One where he can mouth a few platitudes and those Evangelicals who are desperate for power and influence will emerge gravely pronouncing themselves “satisfied” that he is in their corner. Of course, they’ll maintain their “reservations” — including their professed distaste for his racist rhetoric, disrespect for women, and habitual lying — but they’ll fall in line. The Supreme Court is the reason, they’ll say.

For some, that will be pure subterfuge. Access to power is a powerful drug, and there are quite a few Evangelical leaders nursing an addiction. It must be especially hard to kick the habit for those whose fortunes are on the decline. There’s a reason why Trump’s surrogates mainly represent a traveling band of the has-beens and “almost-weres”: He’s their last, best hope for relevance.

But others will hold their nose and cling to him, genuinely convinced that all of his faults are outweighed — just barely — by his (kinda sorta) promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices. Trump’s so mendacious that one can measure his lies by the minute, but in this case they’ll believe he’s telling the truth. Because they want to believe.

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This is a grave mistake. American Evangelical Christianity does not exist for the purpose of placing one or two decent judges on the Supreme Court. It — along with its Catholic and Orthodox counterparts — represents the body of Christ on this earth. It is a flawed vessel, to be sure, but its moral witness is still of incalculable worth.

Despite the media’s grotesque caricatures, American Evangelicals (and Mormons) are the nation’s most generous citizens, giving their time and money to the poorest and most vulnerable of their fellow citizens at a rate that puts most other communities to shame. They are among the leaders in seeking true racial reconciliation, with each of the leading denominations dedicating countless hours and resources to bridging the cavernous historical divides that persist. Pentecostal churches are often our nation’s most diverse, places where men and women of every race and ethnicity unite in joyous worship.

#share#We have our well-known flaws, but our churches are at the forefront of fighting for the family. They’re at the forefront of combating substance abuse and providing fathers and mothers for the world’s orphans. They battle for life even where abortion is available on demand, persuading countless women to keep and to love children they once wanted nothing to do with. I’ve never in my life attended a church that failed to feed the hungry, care for the needy, and minister to those in prison.

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Just think for a moment how many of those values Trump subverts. He has discarded two wives and brags of his sexual conquests. He praises Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion mill. He intentionally foments racial division, attacking an Indiana-born judge merely because his parents came to America from Mexico. He retweets the most vile online racists. Everywhere he goes, white supremacists follow, tormenting his online opponents with horrific images and overt threats. He claims to support the working man, yet he demonstrates aggressive economic ignorance, threatening to play games with American credit and trade in a way that would prove ruinous for families who live paycheck-to-paycheck. He views our fighting men and women as mere instruments of the presidency, and expects them to commit war crimes on his orders. He traffics in the worst conspiracy theories, treats his opponents with utter contempt, and uses his friends to his own ends. He lies as easily as he breathes.

The faithful Evangelical every day pleads with God, “Less of self, more of thee.” Trump each day demands, “All of self, none of thee.”

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And yet some Evangelicals appear willing to use their God-given talents and abilities to actually help elect him — because of the Supreme Court. What are they thinking? Hasn’t Trump clearly demonstrated his own contempt for the judiciary? As he made plain when he launched his attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, he believes that the judiciary exists to serve him, not to serve the law. He’ll make his judicial picks based on one and only one criterion: what’s best for him.

Evangelical leaders: If you back Trump, for the rest of your days, you will be forced to live with having had a hand in fracturing our nation on the basis of race, discarding the sanctity of marriage, and scorning honesty itself — all for the chance, the remote chance, that Trump will make one or two decent Supreme Court picks. You will be selling your integrity for the most meager of returns.

#related#Otherwise, you can fight all the way to Cleveland, and beyond if a strong independent candidate emerges. If the choice does come down to Trump or Hillary Clinton, you can instead reserve your vote only for those down-ballot candidates with the integrity to resist corruption from either presidential nominee. Faced with the choice between further debasing our politics and refusing to do so, you’ll emerge with your integrity intact.

Christians have had to take tougher stands in darker times before. They do so in other nations today. This decision, by contrast, should be easy. Trump is not worth your consideration or even one moment of your time. Let others bend the knee.

— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.

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