First things first: Why the nod to the classic farce "Blazing Saddles" at the end of the headline for this post?
Well, why not? Don't you sense the hand of comedy genius Mel Brooks behind the scenes in this election year? Believe me when I say, "I do, I do."
Thus, People keep asking me things like, "Why are we still talking about Donald Trump and the evangelicals?" Of course, the word "evangelicals" in this case has little or nothing to do with theology. It is a reference to one camp -- stress, one camp -- of mostly white evangelicals who at this point in time are either supporting Trump or who have not made up their minds on the issue.
We are still talking about them because no Republican has a chance to reach the White House in the era after Roe v. Wade without a massive turn out by these highly motivated voters. Republican winners also need strong support from conservative (think daily Mass) and middle-of-the-road (think Sunday Mass, most of the time) Catholics, but that's an issue very few people seem to be talking about. Has anyone heard a word from a U.S. Catholic bishop about anything for about six months?
We are also talking about Trump and this one camp of old-guard, white evangelicals (many can accurately be defined as "fundamentalists") because other evangelicals are talking about them, from the other side of a bitter and painful divide in pulpits and many pews. At this stage, even Trump's evangelical advisory team is packed with people who have not endorsed him.
So, once again, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I, during this week's podcast, talked about the slow-motion train wreck that is Trump's campaign to get right with the God voters. Click right here to tune that in.
I also wrote my Universal syndicate column this week about this topic, opening with dialogue from the transcript of an amazing talk between Trump and the veteran conservative columnist Cal Thomas, the latter an articulate evangelical in every sense of that word. Here is the lengthy overture for that column:
It was a tricky question when Jesus asked his disciples: "Whom say ye that I am?"
And it was a tricky question when conservative columnist Cal Thomas posed a version of it to Donald Trump, while interviewing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
"You have confessed that you are a Christian," said Thomas.
Trump responded: "And I have also won much evangelical support."
"Yes, I know that," said Thomas. "You have said you never felt the need to ask for God's forgiveness, and yet repentance for one's sins is a precondition to salvation. I ask you the question Jesus asked of Peter: Who do you say He is?"
Trump responded: "I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won't have to be asking for much forgiveness. As you know, I am Presbyterian and Protestant. … We have tremendous support from the clergy. I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians. … I'm going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care."
Thomas repeated the question: "Who do you say Jesus is?"
Trump tried again: "Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind."
Evangelical insider know that it's hard for someone like Trump to cut loose with the real quote from St. Peter's response: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Politicos are rarely that candid.
The problem is that, whenever Trump tries to talk about his soul, he sounds like a billionaire gambling magnate from New York City. I mean, this guy is not Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to talking sin, repentance and related topics.
Want to read one mini-document that will explain why this painful soap opera rolls on and on?
Right now, no topic matters more to traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who lead doctrinally defined organizations than the First Amendment -- meaning freedom of speech, freedom of association and the free exercise of religious convictions (as opposed to a narrow freedom of worship behind closed sanctuary doors).
So read this lengthy exchange drawn (hat tip to Rebecca Cusey at The Federalist) from the transcript that Yahoo! has posted from recordings made during the private Trump-evangelicals rally in New York City. This says it all.
Tony Perkins (president of the Family Research Council): Mr. Trump, thank you for being here. I want to ask you a question that’s kind of at the intersection of faith and our military. As a veteran of the Marine Corps, I’m very concerned. This administration has implemented policies allowing open homosexuality in our military, unilaterally placed women in infantry and special operations units. And the administration is now, before they leave, urgently pushing transgenderism within the ranks of our military. Now in the wake of these policies, we’ve seen sexual assaults in our military go through the roof. And we’ve seen religious liberty constantly attacked. Even this week, I believe the video has gone viral of a retirement ceremony in which a 33-year veteran was physically carried out because he mentioned God at a retirement ceremony.
This is my question for you, Mr. Trump. What policies, if any, of the Obama administration will you reverse? And what steps will you take to restore our military and the rights of our men and women in uniform to practice their religious freedom?
Trump: Good question, Tony. First of all, I did read the story about rape in the military. It’s inconceivable what’s going on. It’s a tremendous problem. And it’s another problem that people aren’t talking about. Very rarely do you hear about it or talk about it. Tony can bring it up, but very few people are open about it. It’s big stuff. Our military is so important from any standpoint. You know when you talk about the most important jobs of a president, you always have to go with defense, defense, right? I mean, without the defense. … And we need a strong military. Our military has been totally depleted. I saw the other day -- you probably saw on a couple of the networks -- where they were talking about our fighter planes where they’re old, they’re 18 to 20 years old. We’re using these planes to fight. These are the planes we’re using. And they have no parts because they’re so old -- we don’t make the parts anymore. So they’re going into plane graveyards. And they’re going into museums, where the planes are shown in museums. And yet we still have them fighting and using. They’re obsolete. They’re old. And they’re taking parts -- they’re pirating parts — off of these planes.
And our military is so badly depleted. And we fight all over the place. We fight in little pockets here, here. We don’t win anything. We don’t fight to win. Nobody knows why, but we’re doing it. We used to fight to win. We don’t fight to win. And you know it’s interesting, because prior to Vietnam, we never lost. Now we never win. You thought we won in Iraq? We didn’t win in Iraq. We handed Iraq to Iran. We have given Iraq -- with among the largest oil reserves in the world -- we have given it to Iran through sheer stupidity. That’s the better deal. Forget about the Iran deal that I talk about for the $150 billion. And, by the way, you know about this, $150 billion and we don’t get our prisoners back until the deal is done. We should have never negotiated until we got those prisoners back. And we should have doubled up the sanctions. We double up the sanctions, and you say, “You let them go, and then we’ll start negotiating.” And then we should have never given them the $150 [billion]. We should have just said, “We don’t have it. We don’t have it.”
[Audio a bit garbled here over laughter and coughs. ...]
Trump continues: “We have no idea who they are, where they are. And they’re put all over the country. Even the governors -- I had a meeting with seven governors -- even the governors of this country, they don’t know where these people are going. They don’t know where they’re being placed. It’s crazy. This could be the greatest Trojan horse. This could be the real-deal Trojan horse, OK fellas? We have no idea who these people are. And the governors don’t even know who’s being put into their communities. They’re just putting them in. It’s a very, very serious problem. Well, the omnibus budget pays for that. It pays for illegals coming into the country. It pays for Obamacare. I mean, how we’re doing this is just incredible. You ever see your Congress -- people and other people, and senators -- they go down and they fight, they fight. And then they go down to Washington. They’re “going to clean things up.” And then they get down there and they vote for Obamacare. And they get down there, and they vote for these budgets that are so horrendous.
It’s almost like … I tell this story -- you know, kiddingly, but probably not kiddingly -- where somebody, man or wife, they go down there [to Washington.] And they end up in the beautiful halls of Congress. And they say, “Darling, we’ve arrived. Look at the ceilings. Look at these angels. Look at this beautiful -- look at these columns.” And all of a sudden, they go from this hard-line person that’s going to fight for us, to an automatic vote. Something happens. Maybe it’s the water, but something happens. And we’re going to change that. And, Tony, just to finish. So we have a very depleted military. We are going to bring our military back to full strength. We are going to -- it’s the cheapest thing we can do, by the way. It’s the cheapest thing we can do. And it’s jobs! And it’s also jobs.
You know we make modern equipment. We sell modern equipment to other countries, and yet we have old stuff. We give modern equipment to our allies in the Middle East, and we don’t even know who our allies are. They have better Humvees. You know the stories: 2,300 Humvees [captured by ISIS.] We have many, many warriors that have lost their legs and arms and everything else. They’ve been in a truck and it didn’t have the armor. And they drive down a road and they get wiped out. And we give them to our allies. And then a bullet is shot in the air, and our allies run, and the enemy take over the equipment: 2,300 [Humvees captured by ISIS.] A friend of mine has a son who has spent a lot of time in Iraq and the environment. And I said, “What do you think?” He says, “It’s so sad because the enemy has better equipment than we do. And it’s all our equipment.” It’s our equipment! They take it after our people [flee.] They’re not our people. We don’t know who they are. We give it to the rebels; the rebels turn out to be worse than the ones that we’re trying to get out of [there].
So we have people that don’t know what they’re doing. But we have to build up our military, etc. And we are going to let the generals make a real decision. Because you have political generals in there. You have generals making decisions that they don’t believe in. … And I want the generals without politics. We want the generals. We have to have the greatest fighting force in the world, whatever that may be. And we have to have the generals make these decisions, and the leaders -- the military leaders -- make these decisions without influencing, without people calling, saying, “Do this or do that.” Because there are difficulties. But I just want the greatest fighting force in the world. And I never want to have to use it. I want to have it so that when people look at us, they say, “OK, we’re not going to play games.” OK? That’s the way I feel. Thank you.
OK, so you are a reporter listening to that. Hey, maybe you are voter with a high commitment to a traditional form of religious faith. What did you learn -- from that 1,135-word response -- about Trump's grasp of the crucial religious liberty issues facing military chaplains and enlisted personnel?
Now, do you understand why people are still talking about this subject?
Enjoy the podcast. Sort of.