On Friday, Hunter will join other evangelicals who represent major Christian institutions to launch a group, Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden, describing the Democrat’s overall agenda as closer to what they call a “biblically balanced agenda,” even though they disagree with Biden on abortion rights.
Hunter, who was a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama, cast his vote for Obama twice because he saw him as a sign of “hope,” after supporting Republican presidents most of his life. He said he didn’t anticipate the downsides of voting for Trump in 2016.
“I’ve never seen someone so divisive and accusatory,” said Hunter, who left his megachurch three years ago to become a community organizer. “We’re becoming divided and angry, and it’s the opposite of pro-life.”
The vast majority of White evangelicals are expected to vote for Trump in 2020, just as 80 percent of them did in 2016. But because they made up about a quarter of the electorate in 2016, even a few percentage points in certain key states could become crucial.
The group favoring Biden, set up by longtime evangelical leaders Ron Sider and Rich Mouw, includes several leaders who have since retired from major evangelical institutions. Among them is John Huffman, who was board chair of Christianity Today magazine, a lifelong Republican and former pastor to President Richard Nixon. He is planning to vote for a Democrat for the first time.
Huffman, who did not vote for either Trump or Clinton in 2016, decided to support Biden this time around because he said he has seen how few conservatives are willing to stand up to him.
“I’m coming as an evangelical who is pro-life and prepared to say the Republicans don’t own ‘pro-life’ and they don’t own evangelical,” Huffman said.
Huffman said he knows several leaders of major evangelical institutions who would like to oppose Trump, but they will not because their supporters would pull funding.
“We feel like we are speaking for a lot of evangelical leaders who are as intimidated as senators who have to support the president for reelection,” Huffman said. “This man has demanded a kind of loyalty that is very much cult-like.”
The group for Biden also includes Jerushah Duford, the South Carolina-based granddaughter of late evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, who said that she feels passionately about showing voters who describe themselves as “pro-life” that they can support a Democratic president.
Duford, who took in children through foster care for 10 years and adopted one of the kids she fostered, said she believes that economic policies that support mothers who want to carry a pregnancy to term help to lower the abortion rate.
“There are so many evangelicals who are one-issue voters and abortion is their issue. It is an issue that singlehandedly prevents them from voting for Biden,” she said. “I want to validate that struggle that people are having who care about pro-life issues.”
While these evangelical supporters of Biden might reflect a trend among leaders, evangelicals in the pews are still expected to vote for Trump in high numbers, similar to how they voted in 2016.
Nationally, the latest Washington Post-ABC poll Sept. 21-24 found Trump leading among White evangelical Protestant likely voters, 75 percent to 25 percent. That margin is almost identical to Trump’s 49-point lead over Clinton in a mid-September 2016 poll, 71 percent to 22 percent.
The endorsements that came on Friday included Black evangelical leaders Brenda Salter McNeil, Bishop Claude Alexander and civil rights activist John M. Perkins, who have all said there is a fracturing between Black and White evangelicals over Trump’s presidency.
A separate effort called Evangelicals for Biden was also launched recently by evangelical environmental advocates Jim Ball and Rich Cizik, who for decades led the policy side of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cizik, who advised President Ronald Reagan on his 1983 “Evil Empire” speech in front of evangelicals, said he supported Republican presidents for 32 years until 2016. He said the turning point for his advocacy was reading a quote from director of national intelligence Daniel Coats, who is an evangelical.
“To [Trump], a lie is not a lie,” Coats is quoted as saying in journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage.” “It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”
Cizik cast his vote for Clinton in 2016, but he has never openly advocated for a presidential candidate until now.
“I blame my fellow evangelicals for not publicly challenging this man’s arrogance, lies and unconstitutional acts to subvert the election,” Cizik said.
Both groups are not formally part of the Biden campaign, which features Believers for Biden and Catholics for Biden. Biden’s faith adviser is Josh Dickson, an evangelical who attends a nondenominational church in Denver.
“A lot of folks are doing so because they see the clear moral contrast in this election,” Dickson said. “Some of them are taking heat for it.”
Biden refers to his Catholic faith often, including how it has helped him grieve the loss of his wife, daughter and son. Biden has also spoken at several religious events involving Black Christians, such as the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the Poor People’s Campaign, an anti-poverty group that also includes people of all faiths and no faith. In July, he spoke at an online summit for Muslims. He has met with the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a Latino evangelical, and his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, has done several listening sessions with White evangelicals. However, he has not met with a group of White evangelical leaders like Obama did during his campaign.
The Biden campaign has a seven-figure ad buy featuring two 30-second television spots that will run on evangelical and Catholic TV programs, Dickson said.
Some evangelical leaders who were previously opposed to Trump have since come around. Most notably, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said earlier this year he would vote for the president after calling him “the great evangelical embarrassment” in 2016.
The group launching Friday said Biden’s policies are more consistent with “a biblically shaped ethic of life” than Trump’s.
“Poverty, lack of accessible health care services, smoking, racism and climate change are all pro-life issues,” the leaders said in a statement. “Therefore, we oppose ‘one issue’ political thinking because it lacks biblical balance.”
The latest Washington Post-ABC poll, which was conducted after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and before Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, found that White evangelical voters placed a high priority on the Supreme Court. Many voters who oppose abortion rights believe that having the right Supreme Court justice will help overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.
Among White evangelicals, 17 percent said the Supreme Court appointment was their most important issue, compared with 13 percent of all registered voters. By contrast, 3 percent of White evangelicals said equal treatment of racial groups was the most important issue, compared with 13 percent of all registered voters.