In the wake of President Trump’s waffling on white supremacy, his supporters and advisers have abandoned him in droves.
After a wave of prominent CEOs defected from the president’s Manufacturing Council and Strategy & Policy Forum, Trump decided to disband both. On Friday morning, the entire President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned. As their joint letter to Trump declared, “Ignoring your harmful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.” The first letter of each paragraph spelled “resist.”
Amid the mass exodus, one group is somehow standing by its man: evangelical Christians. Pastors and activists on Trump’s informal faith advisory council have stated their unwavering support of a man whose statements and behavior consistently clash with the convictions they claim to hold. One has to wonder what, if anything, it will take for these evangelicals to finally dump Trump.
Evangelicals are one of the most socially conservative groups in America, which has made for unlikely allies for Trump since the beginning. They’ve historically opposed pornography and gambling, but Trump once performed a cameo in a soft-core porn film and appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine, and one of his erstwhile casinos even housed a strip club.
Evangelicals have often advocated for abstinence education in public schools and the “sanctity of marriage,” but the thrice-married Trump has repeatedly bragged about his loose sexual exploits. The group has widely lamented the secularization of society, but Trump doesn’t regularly attend church.
Consider Trump’s stance on gay marriage. While evangelicals have long fought against rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the president has repeatedly stated his unwillingness to overturn the legalization of same-sex marriage. When Trump invited Peter Thiel, the openly gay founder of PayPal, to speak at the Republication National Convention, nary a peep was heard from evangelicals. One can only imagine how conservative Christians would have criticized the Democratic Party’s lack of “traditional values” if Thiel had spoken at the Democratic convention in support of Hillary Clinton.
When rumors emerged that Trump would nominate Richard Grenell, a gay man who once served as U.S. spokesman to the United Nations, to be ambassador to NATO, members of Trump’s faith advisory council stated they would support the president’s decision. Just a few years earlier, Mitt Romney selected Grenell as a foreign policy adviser and religious leaders revolted.
Mark DeMoss, who leads one of the nation’s largest Christian public relations companies, served as a senior adviser to Romney in 2008 and 2012. When Grenell was appointed, DeMoss said, “A number of evangelicals, including some on President Trump’s faith advisory council, registered their objections with me to Romney’s tapping of Grenell.” Pressure grew until Grenell resigned.
When tensions with North Korea escalated, the president insinuated he might launch a nuclear attack on the communist country. Though such a strike would fail to pass the criteria for the historic Christian concept of a “just war,” Trump’s evangelical cadre shrugged it off. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and member of the executive committee of the White House Faith Initiative, even stated that God had given Trump the authority to take out Kim Jong Un.
Then demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., happened, and the president enraged the nation by vacillating between kind-of-sort-of condemning and openly defending white supremacist protesters. How did his evangelical advisers respond? By reiterating their support.