One of the things about the 2016 Presidential race that has confounded some is the continued strong support Donald J. Trump has among conservative, predominantly-white, religious groups. This hasn’t been a source of consternation solely to Democrats. After all, with opposition to abortion and reproductive rights being such a core issue for religious conservatives, it’s relatively easy to explain their support for any Republican nominee over a Democrat.
But supporting Donald J. Trump over the likes of someone like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who seemed to perfectly fit the mold of what white, conservative, particularly southern, evangelicals have been saying for decades they want in a nominee, has raised fundamental questions among some about the integrity of the evangelical movement and its commitment to any Christ-like form of Christianity. With character issues always previously of primary concern to evangelicals, support for Trump has renewed questions from the Jimmy Swaggart and Tammy Faye Bakker eras about whether or not the white, conservative, evangelical movement is more about money at times than about Christianity.
There have, of course, been exceptions. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has consistently and politely noted that he cannot in good conscience support either major party candidate and has encouraged evangelicals to do the same. But Moore has always been a bit of a more liberal outlier. He has, for example, spoken out for some time against what he describes as cultural Christianity’s tolerance of racism and bigotry and thus its inconsistency with the New Testament.
Many more evangelicals have instead followed the lead of Liberty University President, Jerry Falwell, Jr., whose expressions of loyalty to Donald Trump seem to put him in the “Trump could shoot someone in the middle of the street and I would still vote for him” camp. Any parent of a student at Liberty University, or any alumnus of Liberty University, should be very concerned about Falwell’s appearance on CNN the evening of October 12. Putting aside Falwell’s views on Trump, for the experienced president of the largest Christian university in the world to struggle so clumsily with the basic questions posed, raises its own serious questions about whether or not Falwell is actually the suitable president of an institution of higher education or simply the owner of a hereditary family business empire.
Some students at Liberty University have become sufficiently concerned to take a public stand. A group calling itself “Liberty United Against Trump” is circulating the statement below for signature.
Falwell in a statement of his own noted his support of the students’ right to express their views. He also challenged the accuracy of their assertions, however, and then went on to say that “[t]his student statement seems to ignore the teachings of Jesus not to judge others but they are young and still learning.” That in turn prompted a student to describe Falwell’s notion that their opposition to Trump somehow constituted ignoring Jesus’s teachings to be ridiculous.
Thus sits the issue at the largest Christian university in the world.
But among conservative religious groups, there is one where a not insubstantial number of members may have broken with the rest on principle. These are some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.
A Utah poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday by the Salt Lake City-based firm, Y2 Analytics, shows Trump and Clinton in a virtual tie at 26%, Libertarian Gary Johnson at 14%, and BYU graduate and independent candidate Evan McMullin at 22%. In Utah!
Most pundits have tied this amazing development to growing Mormon disenchantment with Trump, where in Utah Mormons make up about 61% of the population. Of course, a very prominent Mormon widely considered among the more honorable men in politics regardless of what you may think of his policy positions – Mitt Romney – long ago came out against both Trump and Clinton. In recent days, additional prominent, though perhaps less well-respected, Mormon elected officials have also done so. Among them are U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).
It appears that among conservative religious groups Mormon leaders in public life have led the way on this issue.
Prince William County has both substantial white evangelical and Mormon communities, with members of each group holding high office in the area. Corey Stewart and U.S. Congresswomen Barbara Comstock have put their careers in play with their very public and opposite positions on this issue. In contrast, the silence in Prince William County from prominent local elected officials from the two conservative groups discussed here – has been deafening.