Some defend him while others see moral duty to condemn his stance
on Africa, Haiti, divide the religious right.
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks questioning why the U.S. should admit immigrants from Haiti and Africa have spotlighted the bitter divide among American evangelicals about his presidency.
While some of his evangelical backers expressed support for his leadership, others called him racist and said church leaders had a moral imperative to condemn him.
“Your pro-life argument rings hollow if you don’t have an issue with this xenophobic bigotry,” tweeted pastor Earon James of Relevant Life Church in Pace, Fla.
Trump won 80 percent of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 election. But recent polls show some weakening in that support, with 61 percent approving of his job performance, according to the Pew Research Center.
Many evangelical leaders who defended him in the past would not comment on his remarks to a group of senators. A few offered criticism. Pastor Ronnie Floyd, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it was “not good” to devalue any person.
Johnnie Moore, a public relations executive and a leader among Trump’s evangelical advisers, said the reports of what Trump said were “absolutely suspect and politicized.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who attended the Oval Office meeting Thursday, and peopled briefed on the conversation said Trump did make the comments as reported: As he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, he questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “[expletive] countries” in Africa.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., who Durbin said objected to Trump’s remarks at that time, did not dispute Durbin’s description.
Pastor Mark Burns from South Carolina remained skeptical but said that if the remarks were true, Trump was only reacting to poor conditions in Haiti and Africa that were the fault of “lazy governments” there.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said that apart from the president’s choice of words, “Trump is right on target” in putting the needs of the U.S. above those of other countries.
Yet anger spread among other conservative Christians.
They posted family photos on social media and proudly noted immigrant relatives. Bishop Talbert Swan of the Church of God in Christ, or COGIC, the country’s largest black Pentecostal denomination, tweeted a photo of one of his grandchildren born to what Swan said was his “educated, hard-working” Haitian-American daughter-in-law.
Swan called Trump’s comments “vile, foul-mouthed, racist,” and posted the hashtag #ImpeachTrump.
The Rev. Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest in Pittsburgh, worried about the fallout for evangelicals.
“It hurts evangelism,” she said of the president’s comments. “I sort of expect that from him. But I do expect more from the church and from Christian leaders.”