The re­li­gious right’s deal with the devil

Colum­nist Dana Mil­bank calls out evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers who sup­port Don­ald Trump's bid for the pres­i­dency.

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Dana Mil­bank Colum­nist Dana Mil­bank is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

The late Jerry Fal­well, leader of the Moral Ma­jor­ity and founder of Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity, built the re­li­gious right into a ma­jor political force.

His son, Jerry Jr., is well on his way to de­stroy­ing it.

The younger Fal­well, now Lib­erty’s pres­i­dent, was among the first and most prom­i­nent evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian lead­ers to em­brace thrice-mar­ried, foul-mouthed casino mogul Don­ald Trump, declar­ing in Jan­uary that Trump had lived his life in the spirit of Je­sus. This en­dorse­ment val­i­dated Trump’s char­ac­ter for mil­lions of evan­gel­i­cals, help­ing to pro­pel Trump to the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion. Fal­well con­tin­ued to cam­paign for Trump, spoke at the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion and likened Trump to Win­ston Churchill in an Au­gust op-ed in The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Now the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video, in which Trump boasts in vul­gar terms about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women, has caused late de­fec­tions from Trump by Repub­li­can of­fice­hold­ers and con­ser­va­tive thought lead­ers.

But Fal­well is stand­ing by his man. He spec­u­lates that the leak of the video “might have even been a con­spir­acy among the es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans,” in­clud­ing House Speaker Paul Ryan. Fal­well al­lowed that what Trump said in the video was “rep­re­hen­si­ble,” but he ar­gued on New York’s WABC Ra­dio that “we’re all sin­ners” and dis­missed Trump’s words as “dumb com­ments on a video­tape 11 years ago.”

Trump is cre­at­ing a lot of wreck­age as his cam­paign founders and he lashes out on Bill Clin­ton’s sex­ual misdeeds and even the late Ted Kennedy’s 1969 Chap­paquid­dick scan­dal. One of Trump’s vic­tims is likely to be the re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive political move­ment, as many of its lead­ers have averted their gaze from Trump’s misog­yny, hop­ing ends jus­tify means.

Ralph Reed, for­merly of the Chris­tian Coali­tion, claims that for evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers, “a 10-year-old tape of a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion with a TV talk­show host ranks pretty low on their hi­er­ar­chy of their con­cerns.”

And Pat Robert­son, founder of the Chris­tian Broad­cast­ing Net­work, dis­missed Trump’s lewd video by say­ing the can­di­date was only “try­ing to look like he’s ma­cho.”

These re­li­gious political lead­ers’ con­tin­ued sup­port of Trump un­der­mines their claims to speak for tra­di­tional moral­ity. And their political cal­cu­la­tion — that they’re sup­port­ing Trump be­cause he’d ap­point con­ser­va­tive jus­tices to the Supreme Court — ap­pears to be back­fir­ing, as well. Trump’s woes are putting the Se­nate (and per­haps the House) in jeop­ardy for Repub­li­cans, po­ten­tially de­priv­ing them of what­ever de­fenses they would have had against Hil­lary Clin­ton’s nom­i­nees and poli­cies. Ryan has be­lat­edly lo­cated his moral and political com­passes and is mak­ing clear that his only goal now is to pro­tect the House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity. In fact, few con­ser­va­tives are will­ing to ad­vo­cate for Trump other than the likes of Rudy Gi­u­liani and Fox News’ Sean Han­nity, who de­fended Trump by say­ing, “King David had 500 con­cu­bines, for cry­ing out loud.”

In the past, re­li­gious-right lead­ers claimed to care about per­sonal moral­ity. “We will not rest un­til we have lead­ers of good moral char­ac­ter,” Reed said back in the Mon­ica Lewin­sky days. Evan­gel­i­cal leader James Dob­son ad­vo­cated Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment in 1998 be­cause he set a bad ex­am­ple about “re­spect­ing women.”

But Dob­son sup­ports Trump, ex­cus­ing his be­hav­ior be­cause the can­di­date is a “baby Chris­tian.” Franklin Gra­ham (son of Billy), though for­mally neu­tral, draws equiv­a­lence be­tween Trump’s “crude com­ments” and Democrats’ “god­less” agenda.

There are a few evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing Rus­sell Moore of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and Chris­tian­ity To­day Ex­ec­u­tive Editor Andy Crouch, who have tried to main­tain their in­tegrity. The­olo­gian Wayne Gru­den, who en­dorsed Trump, now says, “I can­not com­mend Trump’s moral char­ac­ter, and I strongly urge him to with­draw from the elec­tion.”

But Fal­well said that years from now, “I don’t think any­body is go­ing to be sit­ting around think­ing about whether Don­ald Trump said this or that on the video­tape in 2005. I think they’re go­ing to be sit­ting around say­ing, ‘Gosh, I wish we had dif­fer­ent Supreme Court jus­tices.’”

Or maybe they’ll be won­der­ing how dif­fer­ently things might have turned out if Fal­well, with his ends-jus­ti­fythe-means logic, hadn’t made a deal with the devil and de­stroyed the moral cred­i­bil­ity of the move­ment his fa­ther built.

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