Almost a thousand evangelical Christian leaders gathered in New York City Tuesday to meet with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Among them were a number of prominent Southern Baptists. Eight were among the 25 leaders appointed to Trump’s evangelical advisory panel.
They are: Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northwestern Arkansas; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former SBC president; Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas; David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president; James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, which only recently joined the SBC; and Jay Strack, motivational speaker and founder and president of Student Leadership University.
Being on the advisory board does not amount to a full public endorsement (Falwell, Jr. is the only one who has publicly endorsed Trump) , however to many it does imply a tacit endorsement. Some have been critical of the leaders’ action, to which Land replied via an editorial in the Christian Post. “What would our critics have us do?,” he asked. “Would they really have us spurn the opportunity to give spiritual counsel and advice to Mr. Trump and his team? How would that be obedience to our Savior’s command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? (Matthew 5:13-16). After all, as Evangelicals we all believe that the heart of the king “is in the hand of the Lord . . . He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1).”
Current ERLC president, Russell Moore, has been a vocal opponent of Trump, tweeting Tuesday afternoon, “If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.”
If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 21, 2016
And, a few minutes later, “Forget the politics. Forget the country. An unrepentant lost person pronounces himself to be a believer. And you stand there and applaud?”
Forget the politics. Forget the country. An unrepentant lost person pronounces himself to be a believer. And you stand there and applaud?
— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 21, 2016
At last week’s Southern Baptist Convention, in the President’s message, Floyd stated, “Our nation is divided. We are known more for being the divided states of America than the United States of America. The national political races we have observed over this past year personify the fractured, dysfunctional condition in America relationally.”
Floyd also led a panel on Pastor’s and Politics at the convention. He introduced the panel saying, “Disagreement doesn’t have to result in a strained relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ…This presidential panel is an attempt to address this conversation.”
Graham, who was one of the panelists urged Southern Baptists not to sit at home but to get involved in the process. “One concern we should all have 30-40 million stayed home and did not participate…This is a critical election for the future of America,” he said.
He pointed to three primary issues Christians should be looking at when voting for a presidential. They are choosing Supreme Court justices, belief in the sanctity of life, and maintaining religious liberty. Graham noted, “We must not abdicate our responsibility to pray and to vote.”
There words appeared to be at odds with other convention leaders. At the B21 Luncheon during the convention, Moore and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were among the panelists speaking. Replying to a question about the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Mohler said, “I find myself in a situation I’ve never found myself in as a Christian. I’m going to find myself unable to vote for either candidate.”
Moore agreed and said he plans to write in a name on his ballot.
One thing is certain, there will be continued disagreement regarding the presidential election. Another thing is also certain, many in the U.S. appear to be having flashbacks to 1976 and having their own Howard Beale, “Network” moments in this election cycle.
– Lisa Misner Sergent