Evangelical leaders debate 2016 election
Campaign 2016 | Event illustrates stubborn divide over Donald Trump
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 9/16/16, 02:59 pm
WASHINGTON—Four evangelical leaders engaged Friday in a cordial yet passionate debate that illustrates ongoing disagreement over how people of faith should vote in the presidential election.
“Evangelicals are among the most vocal critics of both presidential nominees, while others vocally back Donald Trump,” said Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, which hosted the event. “We’re holding this forum … in the hope that it will result in more light and less heat.”
C-SPAN aired the National Press Club debate between four politically vocal evangelicals: Erick Erickson, radio host and founder of The Resurgent; Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland pastor and founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition; Janet Parshall, an author and radio host; and Bill Wichterman, former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
All four came from different perspectives, but Jackson and Parshall argued in favor of voting for Trump, while Erickson and Wichterman said they would not vote for either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Erickson said he understood why some Christians might come to the conclusion Trump represents the lesser of two evils, but he insisted publicly supporting the businessman damages Christians’ credibility. He cited Trump’s offenses—including bragging about adultery and not paying his debts—and his refusal to ask God for forgiveness. Erickson said the 1 Corinthians 5 admonition not to associate with sexually immoral persons who claim to be believers applies today to the church universal.
“If we are in the public square advocating for someone like [Trump], what good is it for us as Christians to say we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, when it clearly says not to associate with someone like that?” said Erickson, who plans to write in retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning on his ballot. “Between two evils, God has never asked his people to choose the evil. He has done it for them.”
Parshall pointed to polls suggesting an overwhelming number of evangelicals have come around to support Trump. She said that was the correct, pragmatic position and detailed a long list of sexual misdeeds of former presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, James Garfield, and Bill Clinton.
“We are not electing a messiah,” Parshall said. “I don’t fear for having anything less than a sinner in the Oval Office.”
Parshall also listed the sins of biblical characters, saying, “God has a record of using flawed and broken people, even when it doesn’t look right to us.”
Erickson said all those biblical characters had two key differences from Trump: God chose them, and they all repented.
Jackson focused his remarks on issues facing minorities, especially the African-American and Hispanic communities. He said the rise of Trump was a result of conservative Republicans who had not delivered results for urban communities. “I wish we were not at this point, but this is where we are,” he said.
Jackson outlined seven reasons he believes Christians, and especially minorities, should support Trump: religious liberty, Supreme Court justices, support for Israel, education reform, economic development, criminal justice reform, and tax incentives for families.
Jackson acknowledged concerns about Trump’s character, but said a citizen politician could be very helpful for the country: “The folks who control the system—their grasping little fingers need to be broken off the controls. We need some organized chaos for a moment.”
Wichterman, who declared support for independent candidate Evan McMullin, said the idea that Trump is the lesser of two evils dismisses the threat the businessman poses to the American form of government. As evidence, Wichterman cited Trump’s support for killing terrorists’ family members, his praise of “dictators like Vladimir Putin,” and his praise for the way Communist China handled the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Wichterman said those who dismiss Trump’s rhetoric as unlikely to come true are hypocritical. “Many people who won’t vote for Clinton because she’s a liar are voting for Trump because they hope he’s a liar,” he said.
Three of the four debaters are participants in WORLD’s evangelical insiders survey, which has documented the disagreement over Trump for more than a year. In last month’s survey, 44 percent—the most to date—said they would back Trump, but 48 percent said they still planned to abstain or write in a name.
Some evangelical leaders, including The Gospel Coalition contributor Thabiti Anyabwile, have publicly argued in favor of voting for Clinton.
J.C. is a former reporter and editor for WORLD.