Surely, the most enduring image to come out of Donald Trump’s meeting with evangelical leaders on Tuesday has to be Liberty University president Jerry Falwell’s photo with Trump standing in front of a 1990 cover of Playboy with Trump on the cover and prominently displayed on Trump’s office wall. Falwell has taken massive heat about the photo which could very well become a symbol of evangelical support for the very non-evangelical Trump.
Despite his friendly relationship with Hugh Hefner and the worldly side of the world, Trump reached out Tuesday to nearly 1000 evangelicals for his political salvation. He has fallen in the polls since he became the presumptive nominee and some mainstream GOP politicians have declined to support him.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the Trump campaign announced an evangelical advisory board including such luminaries as Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, David Jeremiah, and Michele Bachmann. No doubt Mr. Trump hopes these big names will keep evangelical sheep in the fold.
However, some in the flock might be about to stray.
Referring to the GOP delegates to the party’s convention next month, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan recently said, “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.” If GOP delegates decide Trump is not presidential material and they vote how they feel, Trump may not have the necessary support.
On Monday, Washington Post reported that over 400 delegates want to change party rules to free them to vote their conscience at the GOP convention next month even if that means voting against Trump. Regina Thomson, spokesperson for Free the Delegates 2016, last night declined to provide new delegate numbers but added, “The support is substantial or we would not be proceeding with our efforts.” Many anti-Trump delegates want to be able to vote for another candidate. If this movement continues to grow, Trump’s nomination may be threatened on the convention floor.
According to Thomson, many of these delegates are evangelicals, but not of the famous variety. The struggle between high profile religious leaders and people in the pews may help to decide how and with whom the GOP moves into the post-convention campaign.
The evangelical character of the effort is easy to see. The Delegate Declaration crafted by the group opens with a citation from the Gospel of Luke.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that “To whom much is given, much is required.” It is one of the most powerful passages in the Scriptures and helped to inspire the closing words of our founding document, The Declaration of Independence: “With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honors.”
If the free the delegate movement gains steam, the battle for the GOP nomination may take on the character of internecine warfare between evangelical delegates and their celebrity evangelical leaders.
With that in mind, evangelical leaders should tread lightly. They run the risk of losing more than an election. If Trump continues to embarrass his evangelical supporters with racially insensitive remarks, contradictory statements, and ongoing revelations about his business and personals affairs, the backlash from the common folk may be directed toward Trump’s endorsers, not just Trump.
Many political observers have suggested that Mr. Trump’s campaign is in need of salvation. Given his low fund raising figures, flagging poll standings, and lack of campaign infrastructure, surely that is true. However, for their own interests, perhaps evangelical pastors should stick to saving souls and let Mr. Trump work out his own salvation politically, if he can.