Character is not what matters

Character is not what matters

Contrite: Donald Trump © Andrew Gombert

Donald Trump's misogynistic remarks have left his evangelical supporters in the U.S. scrambling for explanations. Many leaders of the Christian right defend him anyway – and are now facing headwinds.

Donald Trump has so far gone down well with devout Christians – evangelicals – in the U.S. Apparently his vulgar remarks about women, which came to light over the weekend, have not fundamentally changed that. The character of the Republican presidential candidate, for example, plays only a minor role in the view of Tony Perkins, leader of the influential "Family Research Council".

"Personally, my support for Donald Trump has never been based on shared values," Perkins stressed now. To that end, he shares concerns with Trump "on ies such as the Supreme Court being filled with justices who ignore our capture" or America's "vulnerability to Islamic terrorists".

Trump remains the better choice for many evangelicals

Compared to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump remains the better choice for Perkins. In return, the head of the arch-conservative family organization, which has taken up the cause of defending traditional values, generously overlooks the less than exemplary behavior of his candidate for the White House.

In the second TV duel with Hillary Clinton, Trump appeared remorseful on Sunday night (local time), but at the same time qualified his much-discussed sexist remarks, which date back to 2005, as "locker room talk".

Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who was among Trump's earliest supporters on the Christian right, did criticize Trump's misogynistic remarks in the widely cited video as "lewd, hurtful and indefensible". Subsequently, however, Jeffress did just that. He probably would not want to see the candidate "as a Sunday school teacher". But when it comes to "family values," the pastor emphasized, "the most important ie for us is the catch-all court of law".

Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition made a similar argument. He said it is not merely a matter of character, but what the candidate stands for. "In the hierarchy of our concerns, an eleven-year-old private conversation with a talk show host on a bus trip ranks low."

Apology from Trump

Another influential evangelical, Pastor Mark Burns, argues that the Trump of 2005 is not the same person he is today. He has apologized, he says, and that should be all right. Foster Friess, a major donor to the Christian right, thinks so too, saying, "I'm not defending Trump. I forgive him. What is more fundamental about the message of Jesus??"

Southern Baptist Ethics Commission Chairman Russell Moore, on the other hand, can hardly believe how Trump's pastor friends are bending over backwards. "How unworthy is this? What a scandal in light of the message of Jesus Christ and the sincerity of our witness," Moore asks. He is joined by the president of the theological seminary of the largest single Protestant church in the U.S., Albert Mohler. "I feel humiliated by the arguments of some evangelicals. Lord, help us."

Petition of evangelical critics

While many evangelical leaders are holding Trump's ground, it remains unclear whether the faithful will follow them in doing so. Especially as there are breakaway movements within the U.S. evangelical movement from the political agenda of the Christian Right.

Within hours, a petition from evangelical critics of the presidential candidate reached out on "change.org" more than 18.000 signatures. "We, the undersigned, will never tolerate the racist, religious, and gender bigotry that Donald Trump continually and willingly foments."

The conservative Catholic advocacy group CatholicVote.org called for Trump's resignation after the video came to light. The Republican presidential candidate's statements about women were "disgusting and simply indefensible by anything," the private Catholic media network CNA/EWTN quoted from a statement distributed over the weekend by the Catholic lay organization. If Trump doesn't take the consequences himself and resign, the party will have to take action, it continued.

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