Wednesday, November 9, 2016
A couple of days before the election, The Gospel Coalition, a leading evangelical website, did a story comparing the prospects for religious liberty under Clinton and Trump. I was interviewed, and I emphasized the likely "direct" religious-liberty threats to conservative religions that a Clinton administration would have posed; then I referred to problems posed by Trump. Those included direct threats to Muslims, but also this "indirect" problem even for white evangelicals' religious liberty, that is, in the long-term:
“Part of the answer has to be that evangelicals act in a way that maintains the kind of moral credibility that allows you to witness for religious freedom,” Berg said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how the next generation proceeds and how they renew the witness. It certainly needs to be renewed, given how many evangelical leaders have seemed willing to minimize Trump's character problems just because he claims he'll protect religious liberty.”
Despite their efforts to distinguish Trump's many bad words and deeds from his stated policy positions on issues like religious freedom, many white evangelicals have risked their moral credibility by effectively minimizing his narcissism, crudity and meanness, and ethnic and sexual chauvinism. And in an increasingly hostile society long-term, conservative evangelicals will need moral credibility to strengthen their claims for religious freedom.
Now those who've endorsed him are effectively tied to his statements not just for a few months' campaign, but for a four-year term in office. And the stakes are high, especially for the future of evangelicalism. White evangelicals went for Trump 81 to 16 percent (up somewhat from the numbers for Romney and McCain, who were quite different candidates in moral character). Meanwhile, young voters--millennials--went disproportionately (54 percent) for Clinton (as they had, even more so, for Obama). Millennials are already more non-religious than previous generations; the association of evangelicals with Trump threatens to intensify that.
Let me be clear: I understand the reasons for evangelicals to oppose Clinton, even support Trump, because of concerns about abortion and religious liberty. But what is absolutely plain is that evangelical leaders (institutional, media, etc.) must hold him accountable, on an ongoing basis, for his behavior in office. They must criticize him vigorously for any statements or policies attacking minorities, or women, or individuals with whom he gets in a spat. If they do not give him such dogged scrutiny and criticism, their credibility will steadily erode over the next four years--with awful results for their evangelistic task and, ultimately, for their ability to argue for freedom to serve others through their religious organizations.