October 9, 2016 at 6:01 PM
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.
Some evangelical leaders who support Trump said they continue to back him, many of them denouncing his recently revealed comments about sexual assault but saying they still see him as the best choice. But Sunday, Grudem, a conservative theologian respected in many evangelical circles, pulled back his support and called for Trump to withdraw.
[Update on Oct. 19: In a new column, Wayne Grudem urged voters to vote based on Donald Trump's policies.]
"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."
Grudem, whose earlier endorsement column has been removed from Townhall.com, said the comments Trump made in a 2005 video revealed Friday as well as comments he made on Howard Stern's radio program in the past were the tipping point for him in pulling back his endorsement.
"Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right," he said. "I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did about Donald Trump."
Grudem wrote that Clinton is "no better," saying he does not know how he will vote in the election.
Grudem's endorsement provided some evangelicals with theological support for voting for Trump. He had written a 5,300-word case for why a vote for Trump was morally good, even imperative for Christians in 2016. In his earlier column, he wrote that earlier remarks from Trump were "careless statements" exaggerated by a "hostile press."
Grudem, a theologian at Phoenix Seminary, is the co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization that insists on separate roles for men and women. He did not respond to a request for comment from The Post on Sunday.
While some evangelical leaders associated with the Religious Right have stood by Trump, it's difficult to tell whether others will eventually pull their support. Leaders such as Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, head of Trump's religious advisory board Ralph Reed and Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas have issued their support. However, other high profile evangelicals have denounced Trump for a while now, including Southern Baptist leaders Russell Moore and Al Mohler, as well as author Max Lucado.
The editor of the ecumenical magazine First Things, R. R. Reno, who endorsed Trump in his personal capacity, was supposed to write an opinion piece on his decision to back Trump. On Saturday, he said he could not write the piece. "It's not just that I'm jammed up with deadlines, but Trump has hit new moral lows (who thought that possible???) and I'm beginning to regret signaling any public support, as you can imagine," he wrote in an email.
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."
Other religious and antiabortion leaders who have supported Trump have yet to return calls, messages and emails seeking comments, including Focus on the Family founder and "Family Talk" host James Dobson, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, pastor Paula White and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.
It's unclear whether Trump's comments will have an impact on polls among evangelicals. The most recent Washington Post/ABC poll indicates that 52 percent of evangelicals of any race favored Trump, compared with 40 percent who supported Clinton.