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Notebook Politics

Friends in adversity

Trump speaks during the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference on June 8. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Religion

Friends in adversity

Another possible Supreme Court vacancy could strain the loyalty felt between President Trump and evangelicals

Donald Trump’s approval rating may be falling to record lows, but not among his backers. It doesn’t seem to matter what news comes out: turmoil among our allies, the Comey testimony, a dysfunctional White House. If you voted for Trump in November, polls show you are almost certain still to view him favorably. That is what is keeping him in power and out of danger of impeachment or a forced resignation.

This makes evangelical Christians incredibly important to him. The 2016 exit poll showed that he received a record high 81 percent of evangelical Christians’ votes, higher than Mitt Romney or even George W. Bush received. That in turn means that nearly half of his votes came from evangelicals. Lose them, and he begins to lose his grip on power.

Thus it was that in the midst of James Comey’s testimony in early June, President Trump made a scheduled speech to Ralph Reed’s evangelical-dominated Faith & Freedom Coalition conference. Telling attendees “we are under siege,” Trump promised to fight for religious freedom and immigration reduction and fight against Islamic terrorism. In short, he repledged his support for the evangelical community’s policy priorities.

It’s surely this siege mentality, the idea that any port is good in a storm, that accounts for the continued overwhelming support among evangelicals for the president. That drowns out the other news that in other times would surely have hurt the president among evangelicals.

Character used to be a big priority for evangelicals. Character concerns supposedly headlined their opposition to Bill Clinton and underlined their support for George W. Bush. As recently as 2011, only 30 percent of evangelicals said that a president who commits an immoral act in private life could fulfill his public commitments. By 2016, that number had risen to 72 percent.

These data suggest that character mattered until it didn’t. Which either means that character never really mattered at all, that it was always a cudgel to use in a partisan battle, or that the stakes are so high now that the faithful must look aside to obtain political salvation.

This tension will not go away for evangelicals during this presidency. Trump’s behavior in the Oval Office suggests that one will always question whether he tells the truth, that Trump will always treat subordinates in secretive and shockingly poor ways, that he will demand people give him their loyalty over fidelity to their conscience. The question evangelical Christians must ask is whether they are making the right choice.

Rumor has it that a second Supreme Court vacancy will open up after the current court term concludes in June. If true, whoever steps down is likely to be someone who has sided with court liberals on abortion or marriage issues in the recent past. Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch met with strong acclaim, but was safely made in the knowledge that it would not change the court’s direction, since Gorsuch was replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The next appointment will likely matter a lot.

Evangelicals will then see whether a man who tells them he loves them will remain committed when the storm hits. A port is only safe in a storm if the harbormaster keeps the ships tightly tied to the dock. Pray Trump doesn’t set them loose.

—Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center 

Comments

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 06/16/2017 08:18 pm

    Is it too early to start thinking about who could make a serious conservative challenge to Trump in the 2020 primaries? Surely I can't have been the only one who was torn between bad options last year.

    And to the supporters, yes, he's done some good things, and he will probably continue to do good things. But wouldn't it be better if we had a president who we could also trust to be firm and gracious in dealing with other countries' leaders, to treat women with respect (and men, for that matter), and to always put the needs of our country above his own desire for greatness?

  • Judy Farrington
    Posted: Tue, 06/20/2017 11:51 pm

    Amen. 

  • GREG EADES
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 09:02 am

    Too many articles like this one seem to assume that if someone voted for Trump, they were "loyal" to him and overlooked his character issues.  But elections are choices, and most of the time, none of the choices are ideal and do not merit "loyalty" as this article seems to assume.  I think that most of the evangelicals who voted for Trump were choosing him and the Republican platform over Clinton and the Democratic platform, not because they thought Trump was such a great candidate.

  • BobGutjahr's picture
    BobGutjahr
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 11:30 am

    Maybe Mr. Olsen could offer his idea of a candidate with a better balance of character and issues of concern to Evangelicals.  To declare Clinton to have been more virtuous would be a farce.  It is not clear to me either of the other two candidates available on all ballots were better alternatives.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that, while Trump has made bad choices, they weren't choices the other candidates would have made.  On the other hand, it is not clear to me that many of the positive choices Trump has made would have been made by any of the other candidates.

    It also seems to me that, while a Supreme betrayal is always a chance, conservatives were pretty happy with the list of Supreme Court candidates Trump provided.  He needs to stick to the list.

    It is one thing to confront Christians who view Trump as a savior.  It is very unfortunate for Mr. Olsen to join liberals in lumping all "Trump Evangelicals" together with a broad brush.  

    As I challenged above, I was always taught to couple a complaint with a better alternative.

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 04:58 pm

    I think the article's comment is in reference to the poll numbers--supporters are staying "loyal" regardless of the various scandals.  It's also true that many conservatives are arguing that republicans as a whole shoul be "loyal" to Trump and not accept any criticism of him--which as you point out, is not something the man merits.

  • Marilyn Jean
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 10:27 pm

    Exactly!!  God gave us choices.  We don't have Billy Graham or Martin Luther King for candidates.  This "better than thou" attitude creates an elitist attitude among Christians.  Yes, God sets the standard for us,  but that does not mean that in a secular world we will have sedular leaders with the same values.  We thank the Lord for giving us Trump instead of Hillary.

  • Flying Goat's picture
    Flying Goat
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 09:11 am

    Social unrest has infected the entire world. I suppose we could build a list of reasons for it. One thing that will make it to the top of that list is; Terrorism , then distrust, helplessness, and mendacity. The wedge drivers working 24/7 to split and splinter our culture? The foundation crumbing under our feet?  I wonder how far evil will advance his desires? Time , maybe past time, to armor-up with the full suit. Pick a spot on the field of battle, and stand our ground. Or, we can run and keep running. And while we are running, the laugh we hear behind us is the evil one.

  • SleeperSRT10's picture
    SleeperSRT10
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 09:25 am

    I read a story about a man in a leadership position who was unfaithful to his wife.  He had an affair with a subordinant's wife.  When the women got pregnant, he had the woman's husband killed in an attempt to cover up this leader's actions.  God called David 'a man after God's own heart'.  Let's get behind our president and support him.  God put him in this position and we are commanded to support those in authority.  God can mightily use President Trump - let's not stand in God's way!

  • MamaC
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 09:57 am

    Adultery is the only similarity I see between David and Trump. With King David it was apparently a one-time failure, which he later confessed. Trump, on the other hand, has repeatedly demonstrated lack of character. Can you honestly say he shows any indication of being "a man after God's own heart"?

    By the way, we are not commanded to support those in authority, only to obey them as long as they don't require disobedience to God. Yes, God put him in this position, but was that a blessing or a judgment?

  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 01:49 pm

    Did Trump pen an equivalent to Ps. 51? Trump, by his own admission, has never asked for forgiveness because he doesn't need to. David was a man after God's own heart, not because he was a fallen man, but because of how he got up. 

     

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 05:04 pm

    Because the point of that story was that it was a totally okay thing for David to do.  I also seem to recall that decision having major repurcussions for the kingdom as a whole.  David's adultery set the tone for Tamar's rape and Absolom's rebellion.  Is that really where we want America to go?

    David repented and accepted the Lord's judgement.  Trump apologized a grand total of two times--for the things he's said, not even for the times he committed adultery in the past.  And he's gone on record as saying he doesn't think he needs God's forgiveness for anything.  To compare him to David is laughable.

  • Parfetfamily
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 10:15 am

    Psalm 118:9 - It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 10:19 am

    I realize this article is under the heading of "religion"; however, it is actually purely political.  Trump will do what he has to do to maintain the right positioning for his presidency, and it is hard at this moment to project what that will be.  Look at all the promises that Obama did not keep - we know that pie crust promises i.e. easily made and broken, are the most common type in politics.  While I would love to see another justice step down and get another Scalia-type replacement, it will hardly be a surprise if this does not happen.  And that will still not make me sorry to have voted for Trump over Clinton - nothing will at this point unless he overturns his own directives on abortion.   

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Thu, 06/22/2017 05:10 pm

    Ya mean like how the new GOP budget totally leaves the Planned Parenthood funding untouched?

    What does Trump need "the right positioning" for?  He's working with a GOP legislature.  I thought people liked him because he didn't "play politics" and "told it like it is."  From what you're saying, he could basically copy Obama in everything and you'd still support him because he has an (R) in front of his name.

  • char3g
    Posted: Fri, 06/23/2017 09:56 am

    Was this an opinion piece?  How do you know he treats subordinates poorly? Your bias showed through your feigned attempt to be neutral. Also, to suggest Evangelicals lost their moral bearings by voting for Trump comes right out of far left talking points.  We were not voting for the head of a church. Frankly, Trumps 'talk'  may not be pure but it is honest; as opposed to premeditated & eloquent lies.  

  • twmiller's picture
    twmiller
    Posted: Sat, 06/24/2017 07:56 am

    Ditto, char3g.  Well said!  This was purely a biased opinion piece disguised as a news feature.  I am distressed by World's increasing tendency to imitate secular media by becoming the news rather than just reporting it.  

  • Paul Bryant
    Posted: Fri, 06/23/2017 04:21 pm

    The author seems to say that immigration reduction and fighting against Islamic terrorism make up two of the three main policy priorities of the evangelical community. If this is his intent, it displays a profound ignorance of the evangelical community. Religious freedom is certainly a priority, and opposing radical Islamists around the world is a needful part of that goal. However, Mr. Trump has demonstrated a pitiful understanding of the challenges to religious freedom in this country and his actions in defending it have been unimpressive to date. 

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sun, 06/25/2017 08:45 am

    It greatly troubles me to read this article by a man who is supposedly trained in ethics and public policy and calls himself a Leader in these areas. I have read World Magazine since their start when I was a young man and developed my discernment somewhat from their tutelage! But if I was the editor I would never allow this article because it is simply unfair. First of all, he seems to imply that Trump should be impeached. He mentioned turmoil among our allies, but what exactly does this mean? Has there ever been a point where we were free from turmoil among our allies?  Trump should be praised for his bold steps in protecting Christians and standing up for justice around the world! He sided correctly against Iran and North Korea. He has stood strong in support of Israel and on and on we could go.  So exactly why should he be impeached?  He mentioned the Comey testimony but how exactly does that impune Trumps character? Here he fails to even comprehend how this Russian narrative attack is politically motivated and partly a product of the Shadow Government bent on destroying Trump! It is the lefts attempt to derail Trump's conservative agenda that benefits Christians.  Olsen also says Trump's White House was dysfunctional. Exactly how does he think this was so? It seems he got this idea from the MSM and he doesn't seem to understand the attack waged against Trump. Yes, you could even call it a siege! But Olsen seems to think Trump is at fault while all along the left is bent on destroying conservatives and specifically Christians! Doesn't Olsen understand this? Doesn't he see the ideology that is being thrust at us by Soros and the radical left? 

    And Olsen seems to think that we Christians who voted for Trump somehow abandoned "character" as a priority! How naive can he get? Most of us voted the way we did because the choice boiled down to two people: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The choice was very clear for Trump clearly sided closest to biblical principles even though he may not be a Christian in the biblical sense - though I have heard some comments that he may be a new Christian, but I have nothing to verify this.  Hillary was supporting abortion, the homosexual agenda, transgenderism, socialism, lawsuits against Christians and on and on I could go! Now Olsen seems to think that Christians should have fallen on their sword because Trump said some nasty things and has certain character flaws! Would we somehow be more moral if we stayed home and let Hillary be president? Ironically, Olsen said that we should not trust Trump's word because of his behavior in the Oval Office.  What exactly does he mean? Trump has delivered on everything that he could possibly do and Olsen wants to plant doubts in our mind about Trump! Inside he has this gleeful desire to see Trump fail so he can say, "See I was right! Character counts!"  I find Olsen to be a self righteous pompous individual who lacks real character! Yes Character does count!

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sun, 06/25/2017 04:10 am

    Ironically, I think God let Trump be president to highlight the hypocrisy of our churches today, where we often fail to live the standard which God calls us to live! May we get on our knees and pray for forgiveness.

  • BoyScout's picture
    BoyScout
    Posted: Wed, 07/05/2017 08:16 pm

    The editors at World Magazine have taught me to question my assumptions and dig deeper into a story.  In that vein I take exception to your assumptions and conclusions.  Paragraphs 1, 3, 4b, 5b, 6, and 7 all quote or reference media stories written by known political enemies of the President.  From those you assume evangelicals who voted for Trump do so in contradiction to these facts.  The reality is we get our news from other sources, especially those from outside the media centers of New York and Washington DC.  If you want to make a point with the audience of this magazine you must use credible sources.

    Jim Molnar

    Atlanta