Trump divides Christian right

A Trump protester showing his displeasure at a man reciting religious scripture outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, last month.
A Trump protester showing his displeasure at a man reciting religious scripture outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, last month.PHOTO: REUTERS

US presidential candidate Donald Trump's racial insults, use of profanity in speeches, mockery of a disabled journalist, and attacks on the parents of a war hero killed in action have made him a hard sell for the kind of fervent Christians who have typically voted Republican in recent decades.

That was obvious in the reaction to a recent column by a prominent evangelical, Professor Wayne Grudem, in which he called Mr Trump a "morally good choice". One ardent admirer of Prof Grudem took to a website with a column to call him "dead wrong on Trump".

Their sharply opposing views reveal yet another of the many divisions opened up by the polarising behaviour of the man atop the Republican ticket.

While admitting that he did speak out against Mr Trump at a pastors' conference in February, Prof Grudem took to the politically conservative Townhall magazine and website on the last day of the Democratic National Convention to explain why he now plans to vote for the New York billionaire. "I do not think it is right to call him an 'evil candidate'," he wrote. "I think rather he is a good candidate with flaws."

Prof Grudem then went on mainly to list the reasons why Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would be bad for the country, and his religion. "The question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?" he wrote, noting that he opposes what he says are her views on abortion, Christian businesses, Christian schools and the religion's influence in politics.

In a rebuttal on a right-wing website last Monday, a columnist who lauded Prof Grudem as a mentor, Philip Swicegood, wrote: "Trump is a pathological liar. Anyone who believes any less is simply naive or misinformed."

Earlier this year, one of the most prominent names in the evangelical world, Mr Jerry Falwell Jr, also raised eyebrows when he endorsed Mr Trump before he began winning the primary elections that propelled him to the nomination. That "wreaked havoc in the evangelical world by pitting evangelical allies against each other in bitter and unusually public ways", Rolling Stone magazine noted in its July 21 edition.

Mr Mark DeMoss, who was chief of staff for Mr Falwell's late father and adviser to former candidate Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns, criticised the younger Mr Falwell's decision - and then was asked to step down from the executive committee of the board of the Christian Liberty University founded by the senior Mr Falwell.

Mr DeMoss told  Rolling Stone "it got very personal and ugly. Some of the reaction, quite frankly, felt to me very Trumpian, the way the Trump campaign treated people".

In June, Mr Trump sought the blessing of several hundred evangelical leaders at a meeting in New York. Reviews were mixed.

In an op-ed that followed, Mr Michael Farris, who worked with the senior Mr Falwell in the Moral Majority, described the gathering as "the end of the Christian Right".

Syndicated columnist Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, rapped evangelicals who support Mr Trump even harder. "In legitimising the presumptive Republican nominee, evangelicals are not merely accepting who he is; they are changing who they are," he wrote in one column.

"Trumpism, at its root, involves contempt for, and fear of, outsiders - refugees, undesirable migrants, Muslims, etc. By associating with this movement, evangelicals will bear, if not the mark of Cain, at least the mark of Trump."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Trump divides Christian right'. Print Edition | Subscribe