Some evangelical leaders stood by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even after a video was released on Friday containing his lewd remarks about women.
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.
Some evangelicals have pointed out how Reed called for the importance of character from political leaders in the past. In 1998, when he was running the now-defunct Christian Coalition, the New York Times wrote about the organization’s meeting. The newspaper wrote that the group’s leaders used former President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal as “the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of ‘family values.’ ”
“Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message,” the Times quotes Reed as saying. “We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character.”
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.
On Friday night, Trump released a video apologizing for his comments, calling them “foolish” and saying he pledges to “be a better man tomorrow.”
Other Christian leaders varied in their responses to Trump’s comments.
“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.
Darrell Scott, a black pastor from Cleveland who supports Trump, wrote on Twitter, “I don’t condone the conversation; but I don’t condemn the man!”
Popular author Rachel Held Evans, who grew up in an evangelical home, called on evangelicals to speak out against Trump’s words.
“Evangelicals, misogyny is wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Calling women ‘bitches’ & ‘pieces of ass’ is wrong. SAY SO,” she tweeted.
Trump supporter Eric Metaxas, a popular Christian author and lecturer at The King’s College in New York City, called the comments “ugly stuff” in his response to Evans. “Absolutely correct. Can there be any question? Not from where I stand. Ugly stuff. God bless you,” he tweeted.
Metaxas had initially tweeted but then deleted his initial response to Trump’s comments: “BREAKING: Trump caught using foul language, combing his hair oddly. Could this be the end of his campaign?” Metaxas did not immediately return request for comment.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council, said in a statement that he believes Trump is “still the best candidate to reverse the downward spiral this nation is in.”
“While the comments are lewd, offensive, and indefensible … they are not enough to make me vote for Hillary Clinton,” Jeffress told the Post. He said he would “not necessarily choose Donald Trump to be a Sunday School teacher” but he still supports Trump. “To say Trump’s comments disqualify him from being president assumes that Hillary Clinton is more moral than Donald Trump,” he wrote.
David Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network tweeted, “This just in: Donald Trump is a flawed man! We ALL sin every single day. What if we had a ‘hot mic’ around each one of us all the time?”
Tony Perkins, who leads the conservative Family Research Council, did not back down from his personal support of Trump. “As I have made clear, my support for Donald Trump in the general election was never based upon shared values rather it was built upon shared concerns,” Perkins said in an email the Post.
Perkins cited issues such as the Supreme Court, national security and religious freedom concerns, saying “we are left with a choice of voting for the one who will do the least damage to our freedoms.”
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.
And Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith tweeted about religious freedom, one of the reasons why many evangelicals have said they support Trump.
“So the price of ‘preserving religious freedom’ is to cast your lot with someone who mocks, and makes a mockery of, your belief & practice?” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Maybe, just maybe, securing your ‘religious freedom’ isn’t worth compromising your religion?”
Other religious and pro-life leaders who have supported Trump were quieter on Friday. Calls, messages and emails placed to the following leaders were not returned: Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, theologian Wayne Grudem, pastor Paula White, First Things editor R.R. Reno, Concerned Women for America president Penny Young Nance and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.
Focus on the Family founder and now Family Talk host James Dobson has declined any media interviews on Trump, and his assistant cited “overloaded schedule,” saying he will decline all requests for the foreseeable future.
In September 1998, Dobson sent a letter to millions of conservative Christians saying Clinton should be impeached because his behavior was setting a bad example for our children about “respecting women.” In December, Dobson told the Post he was very wary of Trump, citing his tendency to “shoot from the hip,” his attacking those with whom he disagrees and Trump’s business in gambling. “I would never vote for a king pin within that enterprise,” he said. Dobson has since announced his support for Trump, saying his behavior was because he is a “baby Christian.”
A new poll out this week indicated that Trump may have a problem with pastors. In the past two elections, pastors have been more firmly in the GOP camp, but this election, up to 40 percent of pastors are undecided.
Trump’s comments on women revealed Friday were not the first controversial remarks he’s made on women. In his book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump bragged about having sex with multiple married women and in numerous interviews with Howard Stern, he talked about his sexual exploits. He has also called those he finds unattractive terms like “fat pig and “dog.”
Last year, Trump told CNN he does not like having to ask God for forgiveness. In an interview with columnist Cal Thomas earlier this year, Trump said he would ask for forgiveness. “I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness,” he said.
This article has been updated to reflect Franklin Graham’s Facebook comments and Tony Perkins’ comments sent to the Post Saturday morning. It has also been updated to reflect those who have been reached for comment.