I was in Washington, D.C., this past week on a journalism assignment that put me, as a reporter, in touch with a lot of Christian conservatives.
Naturally, I was curious as to whether any of these people had anything to do with President Donald Trump’s transgender announcement. The ones I talked with denied they had.
I was aware of other issues they were discussing, so I believed their assertion that transgender issues weren’t on their list, much less near the top. So I found it odd that these same conservatives were blamed for Trump’s announcement in some news reports.
Here’s what the Associated Press led with. Note that the headline on this piece said, “Trump transgender ban nod to Christian conservatives,” not just “conservatives."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- His agenda stalled and his party divided, President Donald Trump veered into the nation’s simmering culture wars by announcing plans to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
Much of the political world -- prominent conservatives and Trump administration officials, among them -- was surprised and confused by the president’s sudden social media pronouncement. But on the ground in North Carolina, Tami Fitzgerald was elated.
“It was pretty high up on our wish list,” said Fitzgerald, executive director for North Carolina Values Coalition, which has fought for that state’s so-called “bathroom bill.” Fitzgerald said she found it “ridiculous” that the American taxpayers were being forced to pay for treatment and surgery that violates the conscience of most of the American public.”
Trump’s abrupt announcement amounted to a direct political lifeline to his most passionate supporters. In his chaotic first six months in office, Trump has lost sizable support from independents and some Republican voters. But polls show white evangelicals remaining loyal -- and essential to stabilizing his political standing.
“Pray for him as he faces critics and opposition,” evangelical leader Franklin Graham wrote of the president Wednesday on Facebook, describing the transgender ban as “a bold move.”
So, is a Facebook post by the Rev. Franklin Graham proof that all conservative Christians backed this specific policy move at this time and in this Twitter-based manner?
The team at AP acknowledged that it wasn’t a hot issue among some of them, but:
The issue was barely on the radar for some national conservative leaders, who said privately they were far more concerned with de-funding Planned Parenthood, protecting religious freedom, and amending the tax code to allow non-profit religious organizations to engage in politics.
But for Christian conservatives across middle America who make up much of Trump’s base, Wednesday’s announcement served as a powerful reminder that he remains committed to their values. For emphasis perhaps, Trump followed his morning tweet with an afternoon message in all capital letters: “IN AMERICA WE DON’T WORSHIP GOVERNMENT -- WE WORSHIP GOD!”
I’m drawing attention to this after I saw a July 27 Tweet by Susan Kristol, a well-known writer and wife of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, blaming conservatives for Trump’s actions on hiring Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.
If a conservative scribe like her is blaming Christians for Trump’s actions, what about people further to the left?
It wasn’t hard to find a column on the Patheos site stating “Christian schadenfreude: Sadistic conservative Christians take delight in Trump’s transgender troop ban and celebrate the president’s cruel bigotry.” The writer quoted representatives from American Family Radio, the Family Research Council and Graham to build a case that all conservative Christians feel as they do.
No, I'm not putting a column on the same level as a news story, but I'm aware of a rising tide of bitterness toward conservative Christians whenever Trump does anything outrageous.
There was not one leader from a major denomination quoted in the AP piece nor were there any conservative Christians from black or Hispanic groups. The Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, was quoted, as was Dr. James Dobson, but are they really representative of all conservative Christians?
Reporters should remember that there are at least three kinds of white evangelicals when it comes to Trump. There were old-guard Religious Right folks who pretty much backed him from the beginning. Then there were evangelicals who reluctantly voted for him, as a way of voting against Hillary Clinton. Then there were evangelicals who opposed him at every step of the way, to the point of encouraging third-party voting.
I know that it’s tempting for reporters to get a few quotes from various spokesmen (I noticed no female leaders were included) and write simplistic stories. But it’s just sloppy to take a handful of people and imply they speak for millions of people.
At least the Washington Post found one evangelical Christian leader telling Trump to dump Scaramucci. And here's a story by an ABC-TV news affiliate about an evangelical Christian woman who is a transgender mom.
Like I said, there's a breadth of opinion out there about Trump among Christians of all kinds, even those who voted for him and certainly among those who did not. Scribes could do a better job reflecting that.