After recent rift, are evangelical Christians still behind Trump?

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are signs emerging of
a deepening rift among one of President Trump’s strongest voting blocs, white evangelical
Christians. As the president continues his reelection
effort, he will be in Miami tomorrow to kick off the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins picks it up
from there. LISA DESJARDINS: A recent editorial published
in “Christianity Today,” an evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, started a debate
during the height of the impeachment vote. It called for Trump to be removed from office,
saying the president’s actions in Ukraine were profoundly immoral. It added: “President
Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.” To explore how the president’s support may
be shifting or not with evangelicals, I’m joined by Richard Land, president of the Southern
Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of “The Christian Post,” and Collin Hansen,
the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, a network of evangelical churches. Thank you both for joining us. Dr. Land, let’s start with you. You wrote a response to the call for impeachment
in another publication, your “Christian Post,” defending the president and also his Christian
supporters. Tell us how you see this. RICHARD LAND, Executive Editor, “The Christian
Post”: Well, first of all, I think we’re this close to an election. We ought to let the
American people decide, through the next election, whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office. I think most evangelicals feel that the president,
despite misgivings they have about his language or some of his behavior, believe that he’s
the most pro-life president in the modern era, that he’s done more for religious liberty
through the appointment of conservative judges and through speaking out for religious liberty
around the world, for Muslims, for Christians, for Jews, his statements against anti-Semitism
and his actions against anti-Semitism, that he is, at the very least, at the very least,
the lesser of two evils against Mrs. Clinton and also against the current crop of Democratic
candidates. And so I find that most evangelicals still
support him. They don’t condone everything he does. He was my last choice in the primaries.
I know a lot of evangelicals that he was either their second, third, fourth, fifth or last
choice in the primaries, but once it became a binary choice between Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump, we decided that Mr. Trump was the better choice. And most of us have been pleasantly surprised
that he’s done better than we thought he would. LISA DESJARDINS: Collin, why didn’t you vote
for President Trump? And why do you think he shouldn’t be president? Does he represent
Christian values? COLLIN HANSEN, The Gospel Coalition: Well,
he is our president, and I haven’t taken any position on the impeachment proceedings. I
think a number of people — I don’t think I’m really qualified to be able to speak into
that. What I have seen with President Trump is actually
something similar to what Dr. Land had just talked about. Many evangelicals, like myself,
who had been skeptical of him, actually saw — he’s actually turned out to be, in some
ways, better than we expected. And, at the same time, many of the things
that we’re discouraged by, some of his racially charged comments and some of his — well,
basically his constant Twitter presence, are things that were well known to everybody who
voted for him last time around. So, in that sense, things haven’t changed. So, I don’t oppose him in that regard. I think
the Bible very clearly calls us to vote — or excuse me — not to vote, but to pray for
those people in office, whoever they might be, and ultimately to trust them for the outcome. My main concern is the perception of what
evangelicals as a sort of partisan part of the Republican Party, essentially the Republican
Party at prayer. I think that’s a problem for the church going forward. LISA DESJARDINS: This is a president who doesn’t
talk about asking God for forgiveness. He’s not known as a churchgoer in general, hadn’t
been before this. And he’s someone who right now is accused
of using his political power for his own personal gain, which clearly is something that Jesus
was against. Jesus was the opposite. Use your power to help people. Richard, I want to ask you, then, how do you
justify this president, who some people question how he reflects Christian values or not? RICHARD LAND: Well, first of all, I would
share some of those concerns. And that’s why he was my last choice in the primaries. But when it comes to trying to save the lives
of the 1,150 babies a day that are being aborted in the United States, which I think is a moral
issue, Mr. Trump is on the right side of that moral issue. The Democratic Party is trying
to make abortion a sacrament. In public life, you have to make prudential
choices. And I believe that most evangelicals made a prudential choice, the vast majority
of them, and will again to vote for someone who is going to seek to protect them from
having their own government weaponized against them through the courts, and is going to continue
to put conservative, strict constructionist judges on the courts that are going to give
the American people the freedom to make their own choices, instead of having them imposed
by a judicial imperium, and to protect the unborn in this country. LISA DESJARDINS: Collin, is this the end justifying
the means here? Is that what evangelicals for Trump are accepting? COLLIN HANSEN: I was fairly surprised at the
outcome in 2016, not only, like everybody else, about President Trump winning, but by
the overwhelming support of evangelicals. I do think those — that 81 percent doesn’t
accurately count how many evangelicals sat home and didn’t make that same moral calculus
described right there. But I think I also underestimated the way
evangelicals, as basically all Americans do, see our elections, our presidential elections,
as a binary choice, as Dr. Land has said. We are not in a parliamentary system. If we
were, we would probably see many different options in terms of voting for parties and
voting according to their beliefs. But, ultimately, I think both political sides
make a number of compromises when it comes to the kind of person that they want to be
able to carry forward their views. And that’s kind of the nature of our two-party system,
for better or worse. LISA DESJARDINS: Why is it that so evangelical
leaders are talking about politics right now, not the ministry? How do you know that politicians
are not manipulating you and your voters for their gain? RICHARD LAND: Well, let me say, first of all,
that most evangelicals I know spend most of their time preaching, most of their time spreading
the Gospel, not talking about politics. They talk about politics more when they get
asked by the media about politics. They do talk about being pro-life. They do talk about
being pro-freedom. They do talk about the persecuted Christians and persecuted Muslims
overseas and those who are being persecuted by China and those who are being persecuted
by India. They talk about freedom of conscience. LISA DESJARDINS: Collin, I want to ask you,
is there a political risk on the other side of this? Some evangelicals might see their
goals forwarded by President Trump, but is it possible that politicians could be manipulated
by evangelicals or not? I don’t have an opinion. I’m just wondering. COLLIN HANSEN: Yes, there’s always that concern
that, ultimately, evangelicals may win temporary political battles, but ultimately lose the
culture war. I don’t — I have been very surprised the
last number of years just to see how eager both sides are for a cultural war, and how,
for as much as we want to talk about foreign policy or talk about economic policy, really,
so many of our issues really come down to, are you on this side or that side of this
sort of big political game? And I do think, insofar as evangelicals are
drawn into that kind of game, it does present a major problem in terms of our proclamation
of the Gospel long run. But I do agree with Dr. Land as well, though,
that there’s a lot of things that are happening all the time with evangelicals, caring for
their neighbors, even suffering, but giving God glory, and loving their neighbors with
joy, but those things don’t make the news. What makes the news is the 25 percent of evangelicals
who throw their weight around in politics every four years. LISA DESJARDINS: Well, thank you for this
conversation, not just about politics, but about faith. Richard Land and Collin Hansen. RICHARD LAND: God bless you. COLLIN HANSEN: Thank you.

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