Over the years, I’ve worked closely with many of the hundreds of faith leaders who trekked to Trump Tower last week to meet with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. I’ve opposed Trump, and wasn’t invited. But even if I had been, I wouldn’t have gone. I believe these pilgrims meant well, but I think their judgment about associating with Trump is troubling and unwise. In embracing this brazen man — whether tacitly or overtly — they appear to have forgotten the very premises on which Moral Majority and the social conservative movement was founded.
His candidacy is the antithesis of everything we set out to achieve.
The first national meeting of Moral Majority took place on a snowy day in February 1980. I was a young lawyer from Spokane, and attended as the newly minted Washington state director of Jerry Falwell’s organization. We were moved by our beliefs. And if those of us who were gathered had been told, back then, that 36 years later our movement would embrace a candidate like Trump for president, our unanimous response would have been: “It will be a cold day in hell before that happens.”
From Falwell, Tim LaHaye and other well-known pastors, we heard the message that Bible-believing Christians were not to be silent, nor the tools of any political party. We are conservative, yes. And yes, the Republican Party has been the home of political conservatives. But we were to stand for principle. We wanted leaders who were closely aligned with a biblical worldview on the issues of the day, and we also wanted leaders of good moral character.
We recognized, then and now, that no candidate is perfect, but we believed that there were certain lines which could not be crossed if evangelical support was to be forthcoming. If we say now that Trump has not crossed those lines, then we’re saying those lines never truly existed.
Trump has been all over the map on the biggest political issues of the day, including those most important to evangelical voters. His views on the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, policies related to transgender individuals, limited government and religious freedom appear to have been written on an Etch A Sketch. In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews a few months ago, he took at least three conflicting positions on abortion in a 24-hour period. It’s hard to know where he stood on the issue of gay marriage before 2000. I defy anyone to define exactly where he stands on the issue of transgender use of public restrooms. Maybe his fluctuations help him avoid getting pinned down to firm positions on sensitive issues, but it also makes it easy to conclude that he’s not a man of principle — and that at his core he’s a salesman who will say whatever it takes to close the deal.
Trump most clearly fails the traditional standard championed by the Christian right on the subject of personal character. Even in 1980, we weren’t so naive as to believe that anyone would be free of sin. In fact, the Bible teaches us that every person is a sinner. But we recognized the difference between fallible humans and those with a complete disregard for decency. More importantly, we understood the moral peril of those who refuse to acknowledge their sin. Trump, though, claimed the reason he has never repented of his sins is that he has never done anything requiring repentance. This flies in the face of 1 John 1:8, which teaches us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
The leaders in attendance at Trump’s event know the Bible. It says that we are to love God first and then our neighbor. (Matthew 22: 37-39) Yet they seemingly ignore the childish ridicule that Trump heaps on many of our neighbors: the disabled, Hispanics and women just for starters. The Bible says a leader should not consider himself better than his brothers. But Trump’s arrogance — he said at one point that he’s “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency” — is the stuff of legend, and not the hallmark of a godly individual. He’s not seen as a man of his word — hundreds of vendors report that his companies have stiffed them after services were rendered. He has dragged our political discourse into the gutter. Even an implicit endorsement of Trump stains the character of the endorser more than it elevates Trump’s standing. So if my colleagues who met with him this week don’t want to leave this impression, I hope they speak up promptly and clearly.
1980 was a long time ago. I have remained a leader in what we now call the Christian right through my work in the home schooling movement and involvement in various other conservative causes. I understand all too well that evangelical Christian voters are sick and tired of empty promises from the GOP establishment. We are also shellshocked from the constant attack on our worldview throughout President Obama’s two terms. The prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency compounds these concerns. I understand completely the desire for a radical change, but up to now, we’ve fought, and yes, sometimes lost, our political battles from a place of principle.
Now, we’re being asked to give up our character and just vote Republican. That may be the choice of many voters, but it’s not why evangelicals like me got involved in politics.
I, for one, won’t do it. Neither candidate qualifies as the lesser of the two evils.
Michael Farris is chancellor of Patrick Henry College. He wrote this article for the Washington Post.