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Evangelical Leaders Say Christians Who Support Trump Face An Ethical Challenge


And finally today, another conversation about faith and politics. And here, we're going to focus on evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christians, especially white evangelical Christians, were a major source of support for Donald Trump during last year's election, when 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for him. And these voters continue to be a key part of his base as well as for another political figure facing alarming allegations about his personal conduct, the Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

In both cases, supporters make the same argument - that the alleged or actual personal conduct of these men, however distasteful, is less important than their avowed support for causes important to them such as curtailing legal abortion or opposing same-sex marriage or confirming conservative judges.

That concerns some prominent evangelicals, including Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners. He recently posted a piece in The Washington Post where he argued that, quote, "American Christians have not really reckoned with the climate President Trump has created in our country and the spiritual obligation we have to repair it. As a result, the soul of our nation and the integrity of the Christian faith are at risk," unquote. We called him to talk about that, and he's here with us in our Washington, D.C., studios now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

JIM WALLIS: Thank you.

MARTIN: For additional perspective, we've also called Hershael York. He is a pastor and a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's joining us from his home office in Frankfort, Ky. Pastor York, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

HERSHAEL YORK: Well, you're welcome. I'm delighted to be with you.

MARTIN: And I want to mention we're also going to be exploring political dilemmas faced by other religiously-committed voters in the coming weeks, but we're going to start here because of your piece, Reverend Wallis, which is pretty scathing. Now, it is no secret to those who follow your work that you have not supported Donald Trump, but I take it from your piece that you believe that Christians' support for Donald Trump is something of an ethical challenge for Christians, if I can put it that way. Could you tell us more about that?

WALLIS: Well, I think these issues are much deeper than politics. Many of us feel politically homeless these days, But the racial divide is of deep concern to me. So when white evangelicals say to black evangelicals, I didn't vote for Donald Trump because of his racial bigotry but because of other issues like the ones you mentioned, the response often back from black evangelicals is, so his racial bigotry wasn't a deal breaker for you, I guess? And we're really having to repair that divide.

MARTIN: Reverend York, do you agree that there is a crisis among American Christians, and do you believe that Donald Trump plays some role in that?

YORK: Yes. I think we are in danger of, as evangelicals, losing influence for the gospel's sake really for a generation because of this uneasy alliance. You know, I think one of the difficulties is understanding how we effect power during a time like this. You know, there are two different narratives from the Bible that we can put on this. One is that we're to be like Daniel, who served Nebuchadnezzar in his court. And we want to be faithful even though we're serving someone who is not in agreement with us. But the other narrative we can put on it are the Pharisees conniving with Pontius Pilate. The question is, is it collusion, complicity, connivance, or is it capitalization on a unique moment in history to shape the future through judicial appointments? It's a really difficult moment for evangelicals.

MARTIN: Pastor York, why do you think that so many white Christian evangelicals supported Donald Trump and Roy Moore now? I mean, why do you think that is?

YORK: Well, I think that in their minds, they've made a - basically a prioritization of issues. And for a lot of evangelicals, the abortion issue is the number-one issue. And so they are willing to make peace with any flawed politician who will fight abortion and stand for other things. I think the rapid change on the gay-marriage issue and a lot of evangelicals felt like there was really an undue pressure to go beyond simply understanding that this is now in society to having to accommodate it and - against one's own personal convictions.

MARTIN: What do you think, Reverend Wallis? Why do you think so many evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals, are supporting Donald Trump? Do you think it's because, like Reverend York said, it's a priority of issues? It's like, well, he supports the issues that I support, so I will de-emphasize other things.

WALLIS: Well, the polling that I've seen lately, in fact, shows something different, that the majority of white evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump because of immigration. They're angry toward immigrants or guns or, as evangelical pastors often tell me, I've got them for three hours - two hours a week and Fox News has them every day. It's that agenda. It's a political agenda.

Now, there's a core of people, Pastor York is right, that care about things like abortion and marriage and family, but even there, to have Donald Trump as a champion for those things is rather incredible. This man as a defender of marriage is quite ridiculous. And, in fact, this president-supported-and-Republican-passed tax bill just now will hurt poor families, taking away food and education and health care. And the abortion rates will go up. I believe in a consistent ethic of life.

MARTIN: Did Bill Clinton pose an ethical challenge for you, Reverend Wallis, in the sense that he supported policies that I would imagine you embrace on some level, but his personal conduct was not one that many people found appealing?

WALLIS: Absolutely. And I wrote at the time against his moral behavior. And back then, the polls showed that evangelicals said that - 70 percent of evangelicals believe that a candidate's moral character was important to their governing 70 percent. I was with them. I spoke out against Bill Clinton. Now, 30 percent of white evangelicals say it's important - doesn't matter anymore. That's a profoundly disturbing change in the polling. Yes, I spoke against Bill Clinton and his behavior.

MARTIN: You spoke against him to the point where feeling that he was unfit for office because of his conduct or you felt that you had to speak against him as opposed to - see what I'm asking you? What form did that challenge take?

WALLIS: Well, I was against those who said, as you know, we should just move on. I didn't move on. I said, his moral behavior - moral behavior is connected to governance. And a few of us said that and got critiqued from the left for saying so back then. But I think there's got to be consistency in this. And Donald Trump's moral behavior is really - is really disgusting. It's the antithesis of Christian values.

This is the worship of money and sex and power. Everyone struggles with - public figures struggle. They should struggle. There's not even a struggle with this man. And I agree with Pastor York speaking the truth to power, but this man's destroying truth. This is an administration of perpetual, continual lying. So much is at stake for our faith and the soul of the nation. And how we respond as Christians has got to be more than the ends justify the means.

MARTIN: Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice activist organization. It also publishes a magazine. And he also has a podcast. He was kind enough to join us here in Washington, D.C. Hershael York is a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and also senior pastor at Buck Run Baptist Church which is in Frankfort, Ky. We reached him at his home office there. Jim Wallis, Hershael York, thank you both so much for speaking with us today.

WALLIS: Thank you.

YORK: Thank you.

MARTIN: And one more word about this. As the winter holidays approach, many people from different religious backgrounds or who are secular say they feel a sense of crisis around the holidays with too much emphasis on material goods and not enough on deeper values. With that in mind, we've invited the authors of two books, both personal finance experts, to speak with us next week. And we'd like to offer questions from you.

If you have questions for Richard Watts, the author of "Entitlemania: How Not To Spoil Your Kids, And What To Do If You Have" or Beth Kobliner, author of "How To Make Your Kid A Money Genius Even If You're Not," then please send us an email or reach out to us on our Facebook page. We'll choose questions that speak to concerns many listeners have and get answers for you, and we'll be back with those next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.