In just five years, white evangelicals have become much more likely to say a person who commits an “immoral” act can behave ethically in a public role. In 2011, just 30 percent of these evangelicals said this, but that number has more than doubled to 72 percent in a recent survey.
The survey comes as the majority of white evangelicals are expected to favor Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a thrice-married business executive who has bragged about having sex with multiple married women.
As a voting bloc, white evangelicals have been some of Trump’s strongest supporters this election cycle, though evangelical leaders have been divided on his candidacy. The new poll published Wednesday by Public Religion Research Institute suggested that evangelicals support Trump over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by 69 to 15 percent.
After a video was published earlier this month by The Washington Post that included lewd comments from Trump, some evangelicals, like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Eric Metaxas, continued to back the Republican candidate while others, including editors at Christianity Today and World magazines and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, denounced him.
But after he denounced Trump’s video and renounced his earlier column supporting Trump, theologian Wayne Grudem on Wednesday published a lengthy defense of why he thinks evangelicals should vote for Trump. In his new column, he addresses adultery, or Trump’s sex with women outside his marriage.
“Yes, it is morally evil to commit adultery. It is also morally wrong to approve of committing adultery. But that does not mean it is morally evil to vote for someone who has committed adultery,” Grudem wrote. “In a world affected by sin, voting for morally flawed people is unavoidable. Voting for the candidate you think will be best for the country (or do the least harm to the country) is not a morally evil action, so this objection does not apply.”
Recent polling from The Post suggested that Trump’s support from evangelical voters remains strong despite the contents of the video in which Trump bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women.
Some evangelicals like Ralph Reed have in the past called for the importance of character from political leaders. In 1998, he called President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal “the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of ‘family values.’ ” After the video was published, Reed said he was disappointed but that voters will want to vote on the issues that matter to them.
White, non-Hispanic Christians have leaned Republican since President Ronald Reagan’s time, said Robert P. Jones, head of PRRI. Everyone else, he said, including nonwhite Christians, nonwhite religious groups that are not Christian and the religiously unaffiliated have leaned Democratic.
“That’s been the divide that’s been pretty stable,” Jones said. “It hasn’t mattered who the candidates have been.”
The new poll from PRRI also suggests a pretty stark divide among white Catholics: 44 percent said they support Clinton while another 44 percent said they support Trump.
“We’ve seen a pullback among white Catholics for Trump,” Jones said. By comparison, he said, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won white Catholics by 19 points. “Now they’re more evenly divided.”
Trump’s campaign has been divisive from the start, though white evangelicals are expected to vote for him in similar numbers as previous presidential elections based on polling patterns.
The latest Post-ABC poll suggested that Trump’s support among evangelicals was strong, with a 54-point margin that has remained mostly consistent since the August conventions. By comparison, Romney won these evangelicals by 57 points in 2012.
A recent survey by LifeWay Research suggests that evangelical voters appear divided by race this election. The survey, conducted Sept. 27 to Oct. 1, found that white Americans with evangelical beliefs favor Trump over Clinton 65 to 10 percent. By contrast, those with evangelical beliefs who are African American, Hispanic American or Asian American vote virtually the opposite, favoring Clinton to Trump 62 to 15 percent.