Evangelicals, Catholics, Mainliners and even the most ardent Religious Leftists leaders can agree the 2016 presidential election was divisive and the choices problematic. The former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, Dr. Richard Land, called the election “squalid” and said it left him feeling the “saddest that I have felt after having cast a vote in my lifetime.” Now, Christians must determine how or even if we can chart a moral course under soon-to-be President Donald Trump.
Insight into determining this course and Trump’s willingness to listen to Christian citizens is found in a BBC Radio Wales interview aired three days before the election. All Things Considered host Roy Jenkins asked prominent faith leaders to explain what they know about Trump’s religious commitments and Christians’ policy concerns moving forward, no matter who won the election.
Radio guests included Dr. Land; Jim Wallis, the president of Sojourners; Dr. Joseph Loconte, associate professor of history at the King’s College and a senior editor at Providence magazine; and Dr. Jenny Mathers, the head of the international politics department at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
To start, Jenkins cited a Pew Research Center survey that found two-thirds of Americans say it is important the President have strong religious convictions. “What do we really know about the beliefs of Mr. Trump,” asked Jenkins addressing Loconte.
Loconte acknowledged that “we don’t know much” about Trump’s religious convictions but the evidence of how he and Hillary Clinton “conduct themselves in public life is pretty reprehensible.” Citing George Washington’s famous farewell address, Loconte said religion and morality were necessary for an effective leader of our democratic republic, and yet, he believes these are missing qualities from Trump and his opponent.
“If they have genuine Christian commitments, they don’t seem to be applying Christian principles very effectively in the way that they’ve governed politically or the way they’ve conducted their business practices.”
Jenkins reminded his audience that Trump “has managed to offend Mexicans, people of the Muslim faith, apart from Women and the disabled, and all the rest of it.” Because of these outbursts many Christians, including Jim Wallis, do not believe Trump will lead the republic with moral clarity.
Wallis said Trump’s campaign was filled with “tremendous attacks on Mexicans, immigrants” making his agenda “antithetical” to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said Scripture teaches Christians that how we treat the stranger is how we treat Christ and Trump’s words are “contrary to what Scriptures say.”
Before moving on to a new question, Land interrupted, “I think it’s important to note, Roy, that the majority of Evangelical Christians never supported Trump.”
“Most of the ones I know, he was their last choice in the Republican primaries,” he said. “And among Evangelical ministers, only about four percent supported Trump, about the same percentage that supported Hillary.”
Jenkins later shifted the discussion in a forward-looking direction. “You belong to Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board, a non-endorsing board,” said Jenkins in an address to Land. “What is that board telling him and does he listen?”
Land chuckled a bit as he said, “That’s a complicated question.” Land refrained from divulging the specifics of advice from the evangelical advisory board, but did praise Trump for being more “seemingly receptive to criticism” than any other politician Land has worked alongside.
He recounted a story where Trump told the board the only way he saw himself getting into Heaven was if he reverses the Johnson Amendment. To Trump, Land replied, “The only way you’re going to get to Heaven is by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and confessing your sins to Him, and trusting Him and Him alone for your salvation.” Land said most politicians would not have reacted well to such a reprimand, but that Trump was gracious as he responded, “Thank you for reminding me.”
“Richard, I’m glad you’re speaking to him because I’ve heard him say he’s never known how [or for what] he needs forgiveness,” said Wallis a little later in the program. “This is the most illiterate religious candidate running for office I’ve ever seen.”
Before concluding, Jenkins asked Loconte to summarize Catholics’ concerns moving forward.
“They have issues they deeply care about. Of course, abortion. Of course, the integrity of the family,” answered Loconte. “And yet, in a Donald Trump you have this figure, who in so many ways, his character, his business practices, and all the rest of it…is antithetical to certain Catholic values, Catholic social justice teaching.”
“My biggest concern is the tremendous racial divide that we see,” said Wallis. “Racism cuts to the heart of the Gospel for me. And racial bigotry has been so central to this campaign. It’s been a fundamental issue and that’s got to be addressed no matter who wins the election.”
The Trump administration is still in its transition period. It is unclear if a Trump administration will represent Christians values and policy concerns—including abortion, race relations, religious freedom, global persecution of Christians, terrorism, national security, and immigration reform—or will present a precarious challenge. However, one thing is certain: Moving forward in these “saddest” political times, Christians have a great opportunity to make great gains for the Gospel.