Southern Baptists, Evangelical Christians Remain Divided Over Trump’s Candidacy Despite Promises of Change

Screen capture from CNN.com
Screen capture from CNN.com

Donald Trump told Americans he would solve their country’s problems in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president Thursday (July 21) but appeared unable to bridge the divide over his candidacy among Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians.

Trump closed the GOP convention in Cleveland with a nearly 75-minute speech in which he promised to restore law and order to the United States and to repair the “rigged” political system. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” the New York businessman and reality TV star told Republican delegates and a national viewing audience.

“I am your voice,” Trump told viewers more than once. “I am with you. I will fight for you, and I will win for you.”

Trump, however, failed to mention abortion, traditional marriage, freedom of conscience and additional moral, social issues important to Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.

Trump’s omissions came after Republicans adopted a comprehensively pro-life, strongly conservative platform regarding moral and religious freedom issues on the first day of their convention. His speech also came less than a week after he named a social conservative, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as his running mate.

The split among some Southern Baptist leaders on Trump continued to manifest itself before and after his acceptance speech. Some Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have supported Trump in the primaries or plan to vote for him in the general election as an alternative to Clinton.

Others, many using the hashtag #NeverTrump, say they are refusing to vote for either major party candidate. They have declared that their opposition to Trump will continue through the general election because of what they describe as his untrustworthiness on moral and religious liberty issues and offensive rhetoric.

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, said on Twitter after the GOP nominee’s speech, “Tonight the world witnessed the @realDonaldTrump I’ve come to know. Strong. Decisive. Compassionate.”

Jeffress expressed optimism about what Southern Baptists and others will do by the November election.

“I believe you are seeing evangelical Christians coalescing around Donald Trump — primarily because of the influence the next president will have on the selection” of Supreme Court justices, Jeffress told Baptist Press in written comments.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech Wednesday in which he refused to endorse Trump but urged voters to follow their conscience “crystalized this binary choice we have in November between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” Jeffress said. “If Christians are going to do what Cruz suggested and ‘not stay home in November’ and also oppose the radical policies of Hillary Clinton, what choice do they have except to vote for Trump?”

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., described Trump as a “true patriot” in a convention speech prior to Trump’s.

A vote for Trump is a vote for “conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court,” Falwell told delegates. A conservative’s decision either not to vote or to vote for a third-party candidate is “a de facto vote” for socially liberal presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Falwell said.

Other Southern Baptists, however, said after Trump’s speech nothing had changed for them — they still would not vote for the Republican nominee in spite of Clinton’s advocacy for abortion rights and other liberal policies.

“I have heard nothing tonight that would persuade me to change my mind & vote 4 @realDonaldTrump,” Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted. “The saddest political situation in my life.”‘

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Tom Strode