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. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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  • nellyp
    Posted: Fri, 09/16/2016 06:15 pm

    We learn in Isaiah that Cyrus,  heathen king of Persia was chosen before he was born to be the one to free the Israelites from Babylon, to provide them with all of the materials and resources they needed to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. God will use whomever he deems necessary to complete His purpose-whether clean or unclean.

    Never before in human history (aside from some of the Hebrew kings) has the general population had the right to choose their leader. This is a new paradigm brought about by the Founders 240 years ago. Before that kings/queens were designated by might or by birth. I think we become unnecessarily overwrought by this opportunity to have a voice and in some ways forget that ultimately God chooses who will lead, either for blessing or for discipline.

    I am VERY politically active and will hold this piece of ground under the banner of freedom until His return.

  • nellyp
    Posted: Fri, 09/16/2016 06:16 pm

    We learn in Isaiah that Cyrus,  heathen king of Persia was chosen before he was born to be the one to free the Israelites from Babylon, to provide them with all of the materials and resources they needed to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. God will use whomever he deems necessary to complete His purpose-whether clean or unclean.

    Never before in human history (aside from some of the Hebrew kings) has the general population had the right to choose their leader. This is a new paradigm brought about by the Founders 240 years ago. Before that kings/queens were designated by might or by birth. I think we become unnecessarily overwrought by this opportunity to have a voice and in some ways forget that ultimately God chooses who will lead, either for blessing or for discipline.

    I am VERY politically active and will hold this piece of ground under the banner of freedom until His return.

  • nellyp
    Posted: Fri, 09/16/2016 06:17 pm

    Sorry for the double post!

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sat, 09/17/2016 04:20 am

    Very interesting. As I also look at the current campaign these issues, debates, discussions bring me back to the bigger question. That is, "What is the role of a Christian in any election? And "What do we expect when humans are running for office?" As we vote for the candidate of our choice it seems that often, albeit a smaller peice of the decision, is always picking the lesser of the two imperfect human beings on the ballot. Maybe this is simplisitc, but the role of the Christian whose citizenship is in heaven, and from where we await a Savior, in this world, including elections, is preicated on how we live our lives and to whom our true allegiance is owed. Elected humans will always fail us. They are always unpredictable. And skeletons are in most of our closets. In this election those skeletons are out in the open and drive much of the debate. 

  •  jrmbasso's picture
    jrmbasso
    Posted: Sat, 09/17/2016 10:08 am

    Thank you J.C. Derrick.

    This is an election for a secular leader of an increasingly secular nation. Voting is a right and a privilege for its citizens. For Christian believers, the decision of who to vote for should be undertaken with prayer. One of the chief criteria in selecting who to vote for should be whether or not they will govern in a way which will promote the church of all believers to obey the command of Jesus to be his "witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

    As nellyp has said God will accomplish His purpose to build His church. The biblical example of God's use of Cyrus, a secular ruler, to free Israel and restore it to its homeland is a good one. See Isaiah 44 & 45.

  • MarkPA
    Posted: Sat, 09/17/2016 12:38 pm

    I don't know I'll vote Trump but voting for him is not contrary to Paul saying not to associate with him. We''re not voting for a church leader. We need a scriptural theology of voting.

  • TomLR Las Vegas
    Posted: Mon, 09/19/2016 12:09 am

    It will not be difficult at all for me to vote for Trump in the unprecedented situation we now have in this country.  The next president will appoint at least 2 members to the Supreme Court and numerous other federal judges.  If you're happy with the war on Biblical Christians (which has destroyed the economic lives of many of God's people whose only "crime" has been living out the Bible's teachings) dramatically being escalated, with men going into little girls' bathrooms being solidified in cement, with Muslims (many active militants) flooding our nation without the slightest vetting (Hillary says she will far more than quadruple this), with 95 million working-age Americans driven from the work force, ultimate confiscation of all the legal firearms, and all the other lasting harms the Liberal cabal has and will impose, then, by all means, don't vote for Trump--which will benefit Hillary in the overtaken electoral scheme.  God didn't choose to intervene to stop Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao...so He's unlikely in my mind to Personally step in on this one.  I'm voting for, and strongly supporting, Donald Trump mainly to try to stop Hillary, to work toward the most favorable possible America for continuing to preach the life-giving Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to try to preserve a nation my grandchildren can reasonably grow up in.   

  •  Ernest C Beisner's picture
    Ernest C Beisner
    Posted: Tue, 09/27/2016 04:21 pm

    Erickson’s argument from 1 Corinthians 5 doesn’t adequately reflect its context. Paul there instructs a church to excommunicate (“deliver … to Satan”) a professed believer unrepentantly committing adultery with his stepmother. Church membership and fellowship is what’s at stake. He expressly says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one.” I read “who bears the name of brother” not as denoting everyone who claims to be a Christian (which would include millions of nominal “Christians” who don’t even attend, let alone have membership in, Biblically faithful churches) but those who have been received as such into membership in the church. It would be possible to read “associate” (Greek synanamignumi) as having any contact with, or pursuing any common goals with, someone, but that seems inappropriate in light of Paul’s explicit qualification. The association is specifically regarding church fellowship. (Or should every Christian refuse to be a citizen of a nation including any unrepentant professing Christians? Citizenship is, after all, a form of association.)

    Further, being willing to vote for a candidate doesn’t, for every person who chooses to do so, equate with “publicly supporting” or being “in the public square advocating for” him or her. When I push the stylus through my ballot on election day (and as of now I remain undecided), I’ll be voting not for an individual in isolation but for a PACKAGE: that individual plus running mate, the 3,000+ political appointees that will be made within a few weeks of inauguration plus scores to hundreds of federal judicial appointments to be made over the next four years including at least one and possibly four or five Supreme Court justices, the campaign platform, the members of Congress who will work with that President, the platform of the candidate’s party, and more. As many Presidents have found, all those appointees generally wind up having much greater effect that the President as an individual.

    Finally, every choice involves trade-offs. Sometimes they're benign—do I buy the chocolate or the vanilla ice cream today, knowing I don't have space in the freezer for both? (But I could buy another freezer to accommodate both! But then I couldn't pay my electric bill, and everything in both freezers would spoil!) Always, whether benign or not, they involve choosing perceived benefits over perceived costs. Choosing the chocolate means going without the vanilla. Sometimes they involve choosing between more benefits and fewer benefits--the chocolate gives me more pleasure per bite than the vanilla. Sometimes they involve choosing between more costs and fewer costs--the chocolate's 20% more expensive than the vanilla. It's that last case—choosing between more costs and fewer costs--that mirrors this year's Presidential election. To put it very frankly, if I were in a situation in which I faced a choice between stopping a man with a machine gun from mowing down a hundred innocent victims and stopping a man with a handgun from shooting ten and couldn't do both, I'd choose to stop the man with the machine gun. That choice would have a trade-off--allowing the man with the handgun to shoot the ten. It would also have the effect of having saved a net ninety lives. That's what the choice of the lesser of two evils is always about, and it is a choice that is by definition, so long as neither candidate on the ballot is either Christ or Satan, inevitable.

  • MR
    Posted: Tue, 09/27/2016 08:19 pm

    Where could I get a full transcript of this debate?  I listened to the speeches on the World Podcast, and would very much like to share the word-for-word perspective of one of the debaters as it was played on the podcast.  

    Thanks!

    Heartsyl

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