As a Southern Baptist, I try to keep up with the happenings going on within our convention. I am especially interested when national media features an interview or article from one of our leaders. I was not surprised to see Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, publish an op-ed piece in the New York Times following the Republican presidential debate that took place last night.
Dr. Moore rightly takes Evangelicals and social conservatives to task for seemingly abandoning their stated values and supporting Donald Trump. Moore wisely says, “There’s no religious test for office, and there shouldn’t be. My Baptist ancestors were willing to make alliances with the heretical Thomas Jefferson because he believed in religious liberty. It didn’t matter that they never would have let him teach Sunday school.”[i]
I think maybe Dr. Moore misses the point. People, including some misguided evangelicals and social conservatives, are not supporting Trump because of his rhetoric. A few seem to be supporting him because they agree, that:
a) With huge amounts of money in national politics, a great many people believe politicians are corrupt. Trump does in fact have the resources to run a self-funded race without even the perception of being in the pocket of large donors. Average people care about that.
b) A great many people simply cannot understand why neither political party addresses illegal immigration. In the minds of many, laws have been broken and yet nothing is done. Average people care about that.
c) There is no disputing that American military veterans are poorly cared for once they leave active duty. This is yet another problem that has persisted under administrations of both political parties. Average people care about that.
d) Trump knows his life has unfolded in the public eye and is not trying to hide his past from prying eyes. Whether true or not, there is a sense of "what you see is what you get" with Trump that the other candidates have not yet replicated (perhaps with the exception of Carson and Fiorina). Average people care about that.
Evangelicals have thrown their support behind candidate after candidate who have disappointed once in office. The perception that career politicians say one thing on the campaign trail and govern differently once in office, true or not, has incited anger in the electorate and frankly folks are fed up. Though Moore is absolutely correct philosophically and biblically, chastising Evangelicals for their disgust with the current state of politics will not change hearts and minds.
Most Evangelicals I have spoken with do not consider Trump to be a serious candidate for president. However, those same folks are pleased that someone, even a man like Trump, has establishment politicians on their heels. Trump has forced this wide field of candidates to sharpen their message and address areas of policy that likely would not have been discussed without his presence in the race and to do so much earlier in this election cycle.
Like many others, I expect Trump’s campaign to fade as more and more voters begin to pay attention to this election cycle and the field of candidates inevitably narrows. I have found very few Evangelicals who consider Trump their first, second, or even third choice so I doubt strongly they will support him in the primaries next year when they actually step into the voting booth to cast their ballot. Could it be those so-called Evangelicals and social conservatives of which Dr. Moore speaks are anything but what those terms imply? Perhaps, but Dr. Moore is certainly in a better position than I am to make such a judgment.
A word of warning: if Trump is polling at 25-30% support come February, look out. If America can elect Barak Obama twice to the highest office in the land, it can certainly elect Donald Trump, maybe twice.
[i]The New York Times. Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values? Accessed September 17, 2015. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/opinion/have-evangelicals-who-support-trump-lost-their-values.html?_r=0&referrer=