WASHINGTON (CNS) — Some believe the conservative social agenda has found no better friend, if unlikely ally, than President Donald Trump.
And few sing his praises louder than the Rev. Johnnie Moore, a Southern Baptist minister and conservative evangelical adviser to the president who explained Trump’s unlikely appeal to those of his religious and political persuasion.
For a while, right-leaning evangelicals like Rev. Moore felt left out, even among a Republican party that, he and others believed, had moved too close to the political left. So when candidate Trump came along, “it was like an outsider candidate with an outsider community and we just started talking shop,” explained Rev. Moore May 14.
He made the comments during a panel discussion at Georgetown University, where he and other conservatives talked about the role of “Faith and Faithful in the Republican Party,” part of a series of lectures exploring the intersection of faith and politics.
However, like much of politics these days, the conversation focused on Trump and on certain faith communities and their connection to the president.
“This is a community that in a particular environment, in a series of circumstances, created an unlikely alliance” with Trump, said Rev. Moore. “There was a lot of pessimism about how that alliance would play itself out. We have found that there is this strange politician that has kept his promises to our community, which is an unusual characteristic for a politician.”
But it’s an alliance that poses risks to the evangelical and conservative movements that have come to be associated with Trump, said fellow religious conservatives on the panel, who offered another explanation of how the unlikely alliance came to be.
“I think you had people that felt besieged in a broader cultural context. They turned to someone they regarded as a strong leader, as essentially a bully fighting bullies,” said Michael Gerson, a leading conservative voice, who also is a columnist with The Washington Post.
“You also saw arguments that were explicitly utilitarian in character … arguing, ‘I am going to get a certain amount of benefits for the support of a certain candidate I view as very deeply flawed,'” he said. “I think they were willing to make that trade in a way that was unexpected to me.”
Though some conservatives such as Rev. Moore say they have found a champion in the president, others, such as Gerson, worry about what being associated with Trump will mean in the future.
“I think we (white evangelicals) are seen by the broader culture … as the most loyal elements of that coalition and we will in many ways share in his fate,” he said.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a Catholic conservative and senior editor for the National Review, long considered the country’s flagship conservative journal, said during the panel that it’s remarkable how Trump has been able to push the conservative social policy agenda, and yet “no one believes that he cares about it.”
That has led, he said, to a “transactional attitude” that certain conservative and religious people support, based solely on what Trump does for them and, in turn, they support him, even if they know that he doesn’t necessarily share their values.
With the closeness and attention he has granted many of them, he maintains a steady, if overall low, approval rating, he said.
“A good day in this administration is 42 percent approval. When you are thinking about base politics in that way, it’s a very different view. You have a lot of strategic options that would not have been open to an administration that was playing by some of the old rules,” Ponnuru said. “Those are some of the things that I think are contributing to the situation in which religious conservatism — I say this as someone who’s sympathetic to a lot of religious conservatism politics — has less and less purchase power with the public in general.”
When certain faith communities become associated with a particular brand of politics or politician, it can be tricky and problematic for the entire group, even if they think otherwise.
Panelist Julie Zauzmer, a religion reporter for The Washington Post, said increasingly people are labeled politically depending on the faith group they belong to and in some cases, some evangelicals who do not support Trump also don’t want to be called evangelical because it has become synonymous with supporting him.
“What’s been interesting is not just how religious people vote and how politicians respond to concerns of people of faith, but how politics is changing faith communities themselves, and how religious identity has become so wrapped up in political identity in a way that is really accelerating under the Trump administration,” she said.
Catholic parishes, she said, are “among the few places where you can really find vastly different political opinions in one congregation. That’s become excessively rare.”
But even among evangelicals, Trump did not and does not continue to have full support.
“Even if 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for President Trump, 20 percent of white evangelicals (who did not vote for him) is an enormous number of people,” Zauzmer said.
The risk, said Gerson, is supporting a flawed person for the sake of an agenda and becoming associated with the person’s flaws.
“If the pro-life cause becomes identified with misogyny, that undermines the long-term ability to persuade the public to support these causes,” Gerson said. “The whole idea of family values is undermined when there is tolerance for cruelty and anger. I think you just have to say, if you are going to total up all the gains and losses of this type of engagement, there are huge risks that evangelicals, and Christians more broadly, are taking right now.
“Their movement will be seen as identical to something that is very different in values and goals from their approach.”
Though the president doesn’t have an overriding ideology, he has a certain approach to politics, he said, “which is blaming the other for the problems of our country and that’s true of migrants, it’s true of Muslims and it’s true of refugees.”
Rev. Moore said Trump’s appeal was in his authenticity and because he says exactly what he’s thinking.
“I just think that’s false,” responded Ponnuru. “He doesn’t speak his mind, he lies all the time. … He speaks authentically if we define authentic as not being restrained by norms of decency, manners. Let’s be accurate about the actual phenomenon going on here. The fact of the matter is, it is a minority of Americans who will say that they think of the president as a good role model for children, that they think of him as honest, that they think of his as decent, that they think of him as sharing their values.”
Many have rationalized Trump’s behavior and minimized his flaws, Ponnuru said, and “it’s coming across in a way that is very bad for the future of the social life of Catholics and evangelicals” and widening an already large generation gap.
“What is the long-term trajectory that this puts us on as conservatives?” Ponnuru asked. “That’s an open question. There is reason for worry.”
Gerson said religious leaders, such as evangelicals, are not just another interest group, but are leaders supporting the reputation of the Christian Gospel. He said he feared the decisions some are making have alienated the young, minorities and are “doing some serious long-term damage” to the causes they embrace.
The panel was sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the Institute of Politics and Public Service.
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The foregoing article makes no mention of the war on the poor that is being conducted by the Trump Administration; nor the Trump Administration’s demonizing of all illegal aliens without distinction as to the circumstances of their arrival in the US, their work histories, military service records or the length of their residency here; nor the Trump Administration’s complicity with racism.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been vigorous in impressing on the laity the essential Church teachings as regards the sanctity of life, the ban on artificial birth control, traditional marriages, the centrality of family life, and the rights of Catholic hospitals and schools. No one who occupies a pew on Sunday can have any doubt where the magisterium of the Church comes down on these issues.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has self-evidently failed to communicate to the laity essential Church teachings regarding the right of labor to organize, the moral imperative of a living wage, the perils of unfettered capital markets, the application of principles of equity in the distribution of wealth in society and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable that is the essence of Catholic social teaching. Many Catholic laity choose to ignore the magisterium of the Church on these issues. And part of that willful ignorance can be attributed to the misconception – which the hierarchy has let stand – that compliance with Catholic social teachings is of a lesser order than compliance with Catholic moral teachings.
Neither the Republican Party agenda, nor the Democratic Party agenda addresses the full continuum of both Catholic moral teachings and Catholic social teachings. Catholic voters are challenged to discern – “discern” in the full spiritual sense of that term with its implication of thoughtful, informed meditation and prayer – the competing claims of candidates in all elections, but maybe with special urgency in the elections this coming November. No scrupulous Catholic conscience permits one of the faithful to reach automatically for the lever of either party, without weighing the competing claims of the opposing candidates, as well as the character of that candidate.
A perfect example of what I am talking about is the contrast between Senator Bob Casey, Jr., educated by the Jesuits at Holy Cross College, and a student of law in the tradition of St. Thomas More at The Catholic University of America, who has demonstrated balance, fairness and personal integrity in representing Pennsylvanians, no little accomplishment given the competing claims, interests and values of the full spectrum of the electorate; and someone of the ilk of the erstwhile candidate Lou Barletta who has advanced his political career and personal interests by appealing to fear, mean-spiritedness, and naked racism, in demonizing the undocumented, without distinction, without any effort to find a workable compromise that makes reasonable distinctions between meretricious cases and the criminal elements that may have infiltrated into the country. This is not the time in this great nation for a knee-jerk, slothful, thoughtless exercise of the franchise. More is demanded of the voter by a well-informed, discerning Catholic conscience.
Recently I have been reading my 52 year old college textbook on American History. The phrase that “there is nothing new under the sun comes to mind.” Up until the Civil War slavery and tariffs were ongoing polarizing issues in America. Importation of slaves from African was outlawed around 1811, but the owning of slaves continued until the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow emerged after that. Regarding tariffs, the New England states wanted national tariffs to protect their budding manufacturing industry from imported English manufactured goods while the Southern states opposed tariffs since it reduced the foreign exchange they received from selling their agricultural products oversees (since with tariffs their agricultural products were more expensive for purchase by overseas buyers, domestic growers would sell less). Today Roe versus Wade legalizing abortion nationally was a watershed event that kicked off polarization in the US. And we can see that trade and tariff issues are still being debated today vis-a-vis China, Europe and NAFTA.
So yes, we are more polarized today than at some other times, but this polarization is not absolutely unique. The “Union” was threatened with breakup many times in our history up to the Civil War for a host of issues. South Carolina in particular championed states rights versus national government rights (to the detriment of the country in my opinion.). Is there a cultural divide today?. Yes. President Obama was to some “the one who they had been waiting for” almost a mythic Messianic figure among the very left wing. Trump scapegoated illegal immigrants, refugees, Muslims and Blacks when he realized it struck a chord in the primaries when he was among a field of 16 candidates. More than anything since becoming President, Trump has challenged Congress to stop posturing, bloviating, being interviewed and spending enormous amounts of energy and time raising funds for re-election. Trump wants the Congress to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities and pass laws.
Archbishop Chaput was right. Both Hillary and the Donald were deeply flawed candidates.
I agree with the above comment. Pray for our President. He holds our views as Catholics. The Democrat party has left any trace of Catholicism behind.
I guess if we were to rank flaws ,including sinful flaws, on a moral scale, abortion would be
At least, Mr. Trump , as flawed as he may be, is trying to limit Number 1.
All people are flawed. Apparently, liberals were not concerned about being identified with Obama’s flaws.
Supporting a leader of any political stripe who wages war against the least of our brothers for some greater good would be a rational transaction were there not a final judgement.
Agree Anonymous but that’s what this website does. Just today President Trump restricted funds to Planned Parenthood. We were constantly told there was no difference between the candidates in 2016. So much for that. The Deplorables in the pew know better.
For those who are worried about President Trump, think where we would be had Hillary been elected. Abortion on demand and lying beyond belief. Read Gary Byrne’s book “Crisis of Character” which he wrote as a former secret service agent who was intimately familiar with the Clinton’s true selves. He felt it was necessary to protect us from another Clinton administration. Support our president and pray for him rather than constantly fault him.