Character is important.
The voting bloc that has become known as the “Religious Right” has done an excellent job of establishing its political position around what it defines as “Biblical values,” and it promotes this position largely through Republican party politics. Formed out of common opposition to the legalization of abortion, with the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court in 1973, the Religious right has influenced the platform of the Republican party, and the election of countless candidates for office, including the Presidency. Though it has not always been successful legislating its values agenda, it has enjoyed some success as a political force since 1980.
There is no denying that the character of candidates has been a core issue among those in the Religious Right, and that it has been important to them to identify potential candidates for office who understand, and claim to have, a personal relationship with Jesus in the way that the Evangelical branch of Christianity defines it. It’s not always been easy to do that, and in some cases, to get the support for the values in the political agenda, the definition of “born again Christian” has had to be expanded for political purposes. But there’s been no doubt that the leadership of the Religious Right has made the Christian character of the candidates it supports a centerpiece of its agenda.
There’s been no point in history when that was made more clear than during the eight years Bill Clinton served as President of the United States. Perhaps because Clinton was an active, and very visible member of a Southern Baptist church, the Religious Right leadership was relentless in its efforts to attack his character at every possible point, and make sure that all of his behavior which they considered inconsistent with what they defined as “Christian” was made into a major issue. He didn’t always help his own cause, and though he succeeded in defeating their efforts, including winning two elections and then beat back an attempt to remove him from office via an impeachment, their eight year battle during his time in office crystallized their perspective. It is quite clear, from that point on, that the Christian character of candidates who receive their support is equally important to their position on the issues. They established a standard that defied the concept of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” and rightly so, by stating that evil is simply evil, doesn’t come in varying degrees, and that Christians who are committed to their faith are responsible before God for their nation’s spiritual life and reputation.
The conclusion of that perspective is quite clear. Individuals who don’t meet those standards aren’t qualified to serve. Period. There’s no doubt about that. The words of many leaders in the Religious Right, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, D. James Kennedy, Robert Schuller, Al Mohler, Richard Land, cannot be taken back.
Mitt Romney’s Presidential candidacy posed a bit of a problem. Romney’s Mormonism is as politically conservative as Evangelical Christianity in most ways. Though Romney had departed from the faithful when it came to pushing Massachussett’s version of Obamacare when he was governor, from a values and political issues perspective, he was on board with most things. But Mormons are not doctrinally compatible with Evangelical Christianity. From the basic belief in salvation from sin, to acceptance and influence of the Bible, to belief that it is the written Word of God, Mormons and Evangelicals are religious opposites. So, during Romney’s candidacy, there were some attempts by Religious Right leaders to change the religious aspect of the values position to allow for someone like Romney. It was hypocrisy compared to their earlier view, but it worked, as more Evangelicals supported Romney in 2012 than had ever turned out for any specific candidate before.
Trump’s nomination has served to completely undermine and discredit what integrity the leadership of the Religious Right had left. Character is certainly no longer the issue, and attempts by some Religious Right leaders to turn Trump into a born again believer are becoming an embarrassment to them. It’s not for anyone but God to judge, but when he makes public statements that are contrary to what Evangelicals believe about the salvation experience it doesn’t put those leaders in a good light.
But Evangelical support for Trump is also hypocritical. How can character be so important, for 30 years, after convincing millions of voters that it is, and using it to contrast virtually every Republican who has run for Presidents since 1980 with every Democrat who has run, and then, suddenly, to throw your support to a candidate who is worse than any Democrat whom they’ve attacked in this regard, including Bill Clinton. President Obama’s Christian faith has been criticized, judged, mis-judged, his church and former pastor attacked, and he’s been accused of being a Muslim. If all of that is a problem for Religious Right leaders, but Donald Trump’s unrepentant adultery, use of bankruptcy to get ahead, lies and fraud, and promotion of, and earning money from gambling interests, strip clubs, and bars and nightclubs, is not, then you have an example of blatant hypocrisy.
I’m not going to paint with a broad brush. I’ve included some links here to statements by some Religious Right leaders, including Russ Moore, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They’re not buying support for Trump, and they’re being consistent in not supporting Hillary, either. I also have to mention David Rogers, who is the son of the late Adrian Rogers, of Memphis’s Bellevue Baptist Church. David isn’t exactly a high profile leader in the political religious right, in fact, he served on the mission field for a number of years before returning to Memphis to work with a church plant and teach Spanish, but he’s been a powerful advocate of third party voting for Christians to demonstrate their integrity.
If you believed what the Religious Right once stood for, then be consistent. Character of the candidate is important, and while you are not electing a pastor in chief, you are electing someone who needs to have a healthy dose of values and character, and a connection to the God who created the universe, and his son, the savior of it, in order to be an effective President.