A few months ago, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visited Liberty University, the large predominantly Evangelical college in Lynchburg, Virginia. Trump declared: “I’m going to protect Christians.” Apparently that promise only applies to Christians who pay him lip service, based on his most recent attack against a top Evangelical critic.
On May 9, Trump tweeted at Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Trump said: “.@drmoore Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”
.@drmoore Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2016
This attack came early Monday morning, after Moore leveled his latest criticisms at Trump last Friday and Sunday. Moore published an op-ed on Friday, May 6, in The New York Times. Moore primarily encouraged Americans Christians to reject ultra-nationalistic and racially divisive sentiments in favor of reaching out to racial minorities and immigrants. He did not focus on Trump, although he did mention the candidate multiple times.
“Regardless of the outcome in November, his [Trump’s] campaign is forcing American Christians to grapple with some scary realities that will have implications for years to come,” Moore wrote. “This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.”
Moore also appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, May 8. He sharply criticized both Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I mean what we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon, as well as in the Hillary Clinton phenomenon, is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem,” Moore said. (A full transcript of the segment is available here.)
Moore is far from the only Evangelical leader who has criticized the polarizing Republican front-runner. Christian Post Political Analyst Napp Nazworth listed at least 16 prominent Evangelicals who came out against Trump, including Max Lucado, Matt Barber, and Matt Walsh. He also listed Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, who penned an op-ed entitled “Worse Than Hillary: Why I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump” for The Christian Post. Also on the list was Michael Cromartie, who called Trump a “sexist, racist, demagogic, misogynist, woman hater, anti-immigrant person” during an IRD-sponsored event. Nazworth noted that rank-and-file, church-going Evangelicals tended to agree with these sentiments.
But that hasn’t stopped Trump from lashing out against Evangelical critics before. He has even stooped to telling apparent lies. In a series of tweets last October, he called RedState founder Erick Erickson a “total low life” who was “fired” from RedState for running the publication “into the ground.” Both Erickson and RedState denied the allegations, according to POLITICO. Erickson went as far as to describe the comments as “defamatory.”
It seems Trump doesn’t take criticism well from anyone. If elected, CNN reported that he threatened to “open up libel laws,” allowing him to sue critical media outlets “and win lots of money.”
Should Trump wins the Republican nomination, some self-identified Evangelicals may consider casting their vote for him. Perhaps they think that he will defend their voice in the public square.
But the opposite might very well be true. “The Donald” could prove to be an even bigger bully if given more power. He may even attempt to silence Evangelicals across the board who dare criticize him through intimidation and legal conniving.