Press coverage of evangelicals and Trump is getting confusing, and that's a good thing

Do you ever have those moments when you think the software gods that run the World Wide Web have lost their minds? You know, all those Amazon-esque programs that plug into your browsing history and try to predict what you want to read, watch or purchase.

So the video at the top of this post was the first thing that showed up this morning on YouTube when I went looking to see if anyone has done a report or commentary about religious reactions to the latest Hurricane Donald revelations. As you would expect, there are more than a few prophecy videos of this kind out there, some of which are worthy of The Onion.

No one doubts that there are wild people who are convinced Donald Trump is God's man for this hour. A few even have names that news consumers would recognize, dating back to the Religious Right era.

But in terms of serious mainstream coverage -- about the "hot mic" fiasco and related Bill Clinton 2.0 issues -- the big news is that some reporters are starting to get a handle on key facts:

* There are people who buy the Trump gospel. Period.

* Not all religious and cultural conservatives fit under that umbrella. At some point, more journalists are going to need to listen -- seriously -- to conservative Catholics, Mormons and the new generation of conservative evangelical leaders.

* The old guard of the Religious Right is not where the action is today, when it comes to growth in conservative Christianity.

* Many, many evangelical Protestants who "backed" Trump didn't back him because they think he is the best candidate. They bit their lips and said they would vote for him because they fear a Hillary Clinton victory more than anything else.

* Quite a few religious conservatives have had enough, when it comes to Trump. Did you see the LifeWay poll about a near majority of Protestant pastors whoSTILL do not know what they want to do on election day? "Undecided" remains the top choice.

So what do you need to read today?

To be blunt, GetReligion readers need to click here and read the evolving Washington Post story by Sarah Pulliam Bailey -- yes, a former GetReligionista -- that ran under this headline: " ‘Still the best candidate’: Some evangelicals still back Trump despite lewd video."

The big word, of course, is "some," as in SOME evangelical leaders have changed their Trump views and some have not. Of course, some never backed Hurricane Trump in the first place. Bailey writes:

Evangelicals, who have upheld the importance of family values and traditional marriage between a man and woman, have been hugely divided on Trump’s candidacy. Many of them are split on attitudes toward race and ethnicity, candidates’ personal morality and character, religious freedom issues and how much Supreme Court appointments should matter when choosing a candidate.
Comments revealed Friday show Trump bragging about groping women. “Grab them by the p—y,” Trump said in a recording. “You can do anything.”
Ralph Reed, a conservative Christian activist and the head of Trump’s religious advisory board, said that as the father of two daughters, he was disappointed by the “inappropriate” comments.
“But people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” he said in an email.
He contrasted Trump with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying that her “corrupt use of her office to raise funds from foreign governments and corporations and her reckless and irresponsible handling of classified material on her home-brewed email server, endangering US national security, that will drive the evangelical vote.”
“I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns,” he said.

The problem is that many of these Religious Right figures -- Bailey runs through reactions from legions of folks -- used personal character as the X factor in politics in the Bill Clinton years. Now they have recordings (which never helps) saying that Trump did, or tried to do, deeds that come close to those described in testimonies offered against governor and president Clinton. (Trump, of course, has crowed about his sex powers for decades in Playboy and elsewhere.)

Here is Bailey again, writing clearly about evangelical basics 101.

Trump’s campaign has driven wedges between some evangelicals, who have no formal leadership or hierarchy and have been increasingly divided over who may speak for those who choose that label. A group of evangelicals released a letter on Thursday condemning Trump, saying his campaign “affirms racist elements in white culture.”
The newest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute said that 69 percent of white evangelical Protestants favored Trump while 19 percent supported Clinton. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll indicates that 52 percent of evangelicals of any race favored Trump compared to 40 percent who supported Clinton.

The Post story was updated, at one point, to add comments from a major source who had been silent. Read this one carefully:

“The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended,” evangelist Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook on Saturday morning. “But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended.” Graham, who has not formally endorsed a candidate this election but endorses issues Trump has said he stands for. “The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court,” Graham said.

The court, the court, the court.

That has been the biggest theme in American politics since, oh, 1973 or thereabouts. That is code language, of course, for the world of sexual-liberty law emerging out of the cultural revolution of the '60s. This has evolved into an all-out battle over the "free exercise" of religious conscience in public, sacred and family life.

Bailey used the following quotations, among others, to represent the world of the consistent #NeverTrump #NeverHillary crowd:

Some evangelicals denounced Trump’s remarks, including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“To be pro-life means to say to the ethic of Margaret Sanger *and* to the ethic of Howard Stern: #Never,” Moore tweeted.
“I am humiliated by arguments about character I am hearing tonight from some evangelicals. Lord, help us,” tweeted Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Read it all. And then keep reading. It's clear, on Twitter, that Bailey and others are working hard on other angles (conservative Catholics, maybe) linked to this painful political puzzle facing traditional religious believers in various pews.

For additional information, check out this list of post-hot mic tweets -- care of ThinkProgress -- from various religious voices. Also, the Post is keeping up -- big list here -- with the actual political leaders who are looking for ways, even at this late hour, to find an alternative to Trump.

Keep your eyes on Utah and on evangelicals and Catholics who never backed Trump in the first place.

FIRST IMAGE: The most infamous Trump and the evangelicals screen shot of the year.

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