Van Ens: Evangelical leaders give Trump a ‘mulligan’ for sexual dalliances (column)
High-profile evangelical leaders who support President Donald Trump make a corrupt biblical bargain. Defending his deficiencies, they have a devil of a good time distorting scripture.
William Shakespeare warned: “The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. / An evil soul producing holy witness / Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, /A goodly apple rotten at the heart. /Oh, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!’” (“The Merchant of Venice,” Act I, Scene 3, ll. 99-103).
Three key evangelicals distort scripture in their support of Trump. They are Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who heads the Samaritan Purse relief agency; Tony Perkins, director of the Family Research Council; and, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest evangelical school in the United States.
Franklin Graham twists scripture, insisting Trump was elected Commander-in-Chief, not Pastor-in-Chief. Translated: Give the president’s sins a pass because he protects conservatives’ freedoms, tips the judiciary’s balance toward a right-wing agenda, cheerleads for Israel and is pro-life.
Says Graham, “We certainly don’t hold him (Trump) up as the pastor of this nation, and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have concern for Christian values. He does have concern to protect Christians, whether it’s at home or around the world, and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”
Aren’t some presidential duties pastoral? “Pastor” describes a person who serves others. Christians act as Christ’s servants, as when the apostolic writer identifies himself as “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1).
“Public servant” is a presidential title. In 1789, George Washington declared civility, character and courtesy distinguished the presidential office. The president must not “demean himself in his public character” and must act “in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of the office,” insisted Washington.
In contrast, Trump “doesn’t hide his pettiness, bury his petulance or successfully distract us from his vulgarity and bigotry,” observes commentator Frank Bruni. “He’s too needy an exhibitionist to wear a mask, too sloppy a manager to prevent leaks, and his universe is too chaotic for its mess not to spill ceaselessly into public view” (The New York Times, “Donald Trump’s radical honesty,” Sunday, Jan. 3, 2018, Sunday Review p. 3).
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins defends Trump’s “eye-for-an eye, tooth-for-a-tooth” attacks on enemies. Perkins said evangelical Christians “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
When asked if Jesus “kicked butt” in the Sermon on the Mount, Perkins switched Jesus’ teaching from “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-41) into landing low blows. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” snapped Perkins. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
Perkins and Falwell tell supporters to give the golfing president a “mulligan” for prior sexual dalliances. Aren’t we all forgiven sinners? Such talk sounds biblical, but scripture insists that God’s mercy welcomes repentant sinners. Trump doesn’t apologize, repent, turn the cheek or admit he’s wrong, which lies at the heart of the Gospel’s message.
Falwell swears that “all these things (Trump’s affairs) were years ago, and he has apologized.” Really?
Trump has bragged about his affairs. A little more than a year ago in the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, his lawyer gave $130,000 secret hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels. Trump has dismissed lewd remarks on video as merely locker room banter. Boys will be boys.
These evangelical leaders make a pact with the Devil. They distort scripture, using errant biblical readings as cover for Trump’s defects.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.