After months of "Evangelicals love Donald Trump!" coverage, it appears some major news organizations are starting to put together a few key pieces in the American Evangelical Protestant puzzle.
Is this because, in the wake of the very well-timed "hot mic" tape leak, more of these news reports are being written by veteran religion-beat professionals, as opposed to the tone-deaf folks in the political-journalism pack?
That is certainly a big part part of the picture.
Is it because of Twitter and other forms of social media, which allow editors to see (without needing to meet any of these religious nuts) evidence that the world of #NeverTrump #NeverHillary has existed on the cultural right since the start of the White House race? After all, how many pros in the Acela Zone follow developments in Utah or know about the Gospel Coalition? I'm amazed, even at this point in the game, how many journalists have never heard of the Rev. Russell Moore.
Before we get to the Sarah Pulliam Bailey round-up for today, it is significant that the Associated Press has produced a feature with the headline, "Why Do Evangelicals Prefer Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton?"
Of course, this headline should have included the word "some," as in "some evangelicals." Down in the body of the feature, AP made it rather clear that many -- perhaps even most -- religious conservatives are not planning to vote for Trump, but against you know who. This is not news to people who follow religion trends, but it will be surprising to some editors at daily newspapers:
Recent polls show the GOP presidential nominee drawing about 70 percent of the white evangelical vote. Although some evangelicals defended Trump's character, many couched their endorsements in pragmatic terms, focused on Trump's promise that he will appoint conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Laura Olson, a Clemson University political scientist, said this support can be seen in part as payback for evangelical losses in the so-called culture wars. Many conservative Christians see the roots of their failure in the policies of President Bill Clinton. In 1993, days into his first term in the White House and on the 20th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Clinton signed an executive order abolishing some restrictions on abortion.
Younger evangelicals likely don't remember that far back. But for others, the Clintons "come as a package deal in so many people's minds," Olson said.
Then there is this crucial fact, long stressed by Christianity Today and others:
In a recent Pew Research Center survey, more than three-quarters of white evangelicals cited dislike for Clinton as a major reason they prefer Trump.
"A perception grew, even while (Clinton) was first lady, that she was the extremely liberal one, that Bill Clinton was a moderate, a pragmatist, while Hillary had an extremely liberal approach to things," said Matthew Lee Anderson, founder of the popular Christian blog Mere Orthodoxy, who came out early against Trump. "A lot has to do with her views on abortion. She was much more easily characterized as a foe than even Bill Clinton was. That picture was set relatively early within the religious right, and it has endured."
So what's the latest news?
You just knew (shudder) that the words "Pat Robertson" and "Donald Trump" were going to make it into the headlines again. Here is the Washington Post headline: "Standing by Donald Trump, Pat Robertson calls lewd video ‘macho talk’."
Now, does anyone know what the headline originally said? I ask, because the story now carries this correction right up top:
An earlier headline on this story incorrectly stated that Pat Robertson had excused the lewd video. This version has been corrected.
One of the things Bailey stresses in this story is the generational divide inside the current evangelical tensions. Robertson is, for example, "seen as a member of the historic religious right, leaders of older generations of conservative evangelicals who have led conservative religious voters to vote mostly with the Republican Party. Some observers have declared Trump’s candidacy to be the end of the religious right, citing young evangelicals’ dissatisfaction with the movement." Later there is this:
For decades, Robertson, 86, has been an influential leader among evangelicals, especially among charismatic Christians, and he founded Regent University. Robertson’s past remarks, including a claim that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment, have drawn controversy even among evangelicals. He once suggested -- and later retracted -- that it would be understandable for someone to divorce a spouse who has Alzheimer’s.
Trump’s candidacy, however, has divided evangelicals, who have no formal hierarchy or spokespeople. Some politically involved evangelical leaders continued to back Trump after the video leak, while a prominent theologian, Wayne Grudem, pulled back his support Sunday, and other leaders, such as Russell Moore, Max Lucado and Albert Mohler, continued to condemn the nominee.
At least online (if readers see the tree-pulp Post, please let me know if these stories are being published there), Grudem gets his own story, yes, care of Bailey. Here is some of the overture:
Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem was one of Donald Trump’s most surprising endorsers earlier this year, saying that the Republican presidential nominee was “a morally good choice.” Grudem’s endorsement set off a wave of controversy among evangelicals, who have been deeply divided over this election. ...
Grudem, a conservative theologian respected in many evangelical circles, pulled back his support and called for Trump to withdraw. ...
“There is no morally good presidential candidate in this election,” Grudem wrote. “I previously called Donald Trump a ‘good candidate with flaws’ and a ‘flawed candidate’ but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.”
Over and over, however, cultural conservatives faced the same painful reality: If not Trump (always a question mark, in terms of actions as opposed to mere words), who will get to nominate the next round of U.S. Supreme Court justices? Thus:
One pro-life leader who declined to be named said she does not know what to do and is reconsidering her support for Trump. Many abortion opponents find it difficult to back Clinton. “It’s hard to know what to do,” she said. “He is a disaster, but she is, too.”
One final thought: Somebody in Twitter -- I cannot find the tweet -- made an interesting observation. If Trump is a "baby Christian," has some have claimed, why didn't he play the conversion and repentance card? Why didn't he say, "I made these horrible remarks long before I truly came to faith in Jesus Christ. Let me repent, once again, and stress that I am now a different man."
It is interesting that he did not take that approach. I mean, he could have said that if he has been changed by a conversion experience in recent months, as some claim. Interesting.