When Donald Trump announced his Evangelical Executive Advisory Council, the news coverage and commentary was quite loud. Many Evangelicals were very concerned about why these leaders would seemingly tacitly support Trump.
My social media feed lit up with criticism and condemnation for many of these leaders. Why, we ask, would they support Trump?
The leaders on the executive board were not asked to endorse Mr. Trump as a prerequisite for participating on the board. Rather, the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.
However, it indeed was seen as a tacit endorsement by many. And many Evangelicals are not particularly happy with how things have gone and how Evangelicals have been involved.
For example, Andy Crouch, editorial director of Christianity Today, wrote earlier today:
The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.
Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.
(For full disclosure, I should say that I was asked to be on the advisory council, and this perception was why I declined to be a part. Normally, I would be inclined to serve on any religious advisory council that does not require endorsement—and would actually take my/our advice. However, in this case, and because of how some might perceive my participation, I did not.)
How Advisory Council Members Are Responding
Endorsement or not, it is true that some on Trump’s council are still holding firm to their commitment to the GOP nominee. In a comment to CNN, Ralph Reed, head of Trump's religious advisory board, recently dismissed Trump’s comments in a recent video during a taping of Access Hollywood:
I've listened to the tape. My view is that people of faith are voting for president on issues like who will defend and protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, grow the economy and create jobs, oppose the Iran nuclear deal. I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns.
We don’t know what Ralph was saying behind closed doors, but I wondered what other members of the advisory board were saying, particularly after the events of this weekend.
This Sunday, I happened to be speaking at Harvest Bible Chapel while James MacDonald, one of the advisory council members, recovered from surgery. I asked James how he was responding and advising Trump’s campaign.
James drew my attention to an email he sent to several members of the faith council, the Trump campaign liaison, and also to others who oppose Trump’s candidacy. He gave me permission to share it because he was “making no effort to keep these things private.” (He copied people inside and outside of the campaign.)
James MacDonald’s Words to the Campaign
This weekend, James wrote of his concern that these widely-reported Trump comments are not to be treated lightly. He wrote:
Mr. Trump's comments released yesterday—though 10 years ago (he was 60)—are not just sophomoric or locker room banter. They are truly the kind of misogynistic trash that reveals a man to be lecherous and worthless—not the guy who gets politely ignored, but the guy who gets a punch in the head from worthy men who hear him talk that way about women.
He also drew some lines in the sand:
I have a wife of 33 years, a daughter, and 2 daughters in law. I am not able to offer my time any further without an obvious "change of heart and direction" [that] true believers call repentance.
And encouraged Trump toward true repentance:
If Mr. Trump isn’t seeking our counsel now— 1) to be repentant 2) on how to portray that repentance, then the idea of a faith council (which has deteriorated into influence brokering anyway) is really kind of a joke right? I have spent my life helping men get free from such disgusting commentary on women—even writing my doctoral dissertation on self-disclosure of sin among men. I cannot and will not offer help to a man who believes this kind of talk a minor error.
And it’s worth noting that he, and others in the group, are concerned that this pattern has continued.
No more defending Mr. Trump as simply foolish or loose lipped. Please pass this on to whomever you deem best.
I can assure you, having seen more of the conversation, James’ words are being discussed.
As of Sunday night, Trump still excused his comments in the video as “locker room talk,” which is only true if it is “locker room talk” about sexually assaulting women. Which, in fact, all should condemn, and condemn wholeheartedly.
And, of course, these are hardly the first offensive comments Trump has made, disparaging people (or groups of people).
Words do matter.
They reveal what’s in the heart and these kinds of words have been shown to lead to cultures of rape and marginalization of not only women, but many others who are not in places of power. A myriad of passages in scripture remind us that our words have the power of life and death (e.g., Gal. 6:7-8; Matt. 15:18; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 29:20; Luke 6:45).
You can debate whether someone should serve on that council—I did not and James did. Other leaders, some of who are friends and for whom I have respect, also did.
But I’m thankful that members of Trump’s advisory council are speaking into the situation, and I’m hoping that their advising is actually received by the candidate. I believe that truth spoken in love is a powerful witness that can change hearts, communities, nations, and the world.
May Trump have the humility to hear from the people he’s asked to advise him.