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Unholy war: The few evangelicals who stood up to Trump

The Trump enablers, those who — for political or personal reasons — were acquiescent in the former president’s abuses of power, face a permanent stain. Let’s also recognize those who resisted.

Foremost were a small group of Christian conservatives. The white evangelical community overwhelmingly supported the former president, whose actions, rhetoric and character were antithetical to the faith and values that community usually proclaims. They justified it by pointing to his appointment of federal judges and his anti-abortion stances. Trump won more than three-quarters of white evangelicals last November.

Those few Christian conservatives who stood up included two former speechwriters for Republican presidents: columnist Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner, an ethicist. Also standing up were: Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist convention; Mark Galli, the former editor of Christianity Today which editorialized against Trump’s reelection; and David French, senior editor of the conservative website, the Dispatch, and a religious rights expert. There were others.

“I wish there were a bigger list,” laments Gerson.

This is in contrast to the many evangelical leaders and pastors who were Trump cheerleaders. Among the most active were Ralph Reed, the always eager-for-access operative who once said he was “humping” for corporate accounts; Jerry Falwell, the President of Liberty University until he resigned last year because of a sex scandal; and evangelist and missionary Franklin Graham, an anti-Muslim zealot who likened Republicans who voted to impeach Trump to Judas. (He’s the son of famed preacher, the late Billy Graham, who later in life expressed regret at his close connections to politicians and warned against being beholden to one party. The elder Graham’s granddaughter Jerushah was a vocal critic of Trump.)

“They became corrupted by power,” Wehner told me. “They would not call Mr. Trump out for his lawlessness, the savagery of his politics, his cruelty, his pathological lies and his conspiracy theories. They would not speak truth to power.” 

Judging by much of the religious right’s agenda — anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, a conservative judiciary —Trump delivered. They would have gotten almost the same from any Republican president without the moral hazard and hypocrisy.

Trump’s record on human rights and religious freedom around the globe — a stated priority for many evangelicals — was abysmal. He brushed aside North Korea’s atrocious record on religious freedom to court — futilely — the dictator Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnTrump offered North Korea’s Kim a ride home on Air Force One: report North Korea continued work on nuclear program despite sanctions, UN says Cyberattacks helping North Korea fund nuclear weapons and missiles, UN panel says MORE; Trump was similarly uninterested in China’s record of atrocity.

“Trump treated evangelicals as another interest group like labor unions or business,” Gerson told me. “Christians in politics aren’t supposed to be just another interest group.”

The most courageous of those to object may have been Moore, head of the Religious and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: He spoke out against Trump back in 2015, comparing the candidate’s views on women to a “Bronze Age warlord.” This year, after a Trump-inspired mob sacked the U.S. Capitol, Moore urged him to drop his fraudulent claim the election was stolen and resign.

Moore is in a distinct minority among Baptist and Evangelical leaders; the knives have long been out for him. A convention-authorized report last year charged he was costing the convention money, as some churches were withholding funds because of his anti-Trump views.

“He remains a real target of the ultra, ultra conservative crowd,” Bill Leonard, the former Dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and an ordained Baptist minister, told me recently.

The Southern Baptists have lost membership for 13 years straight, and most leaders — except…

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