Evangelicals Are Supporting a Sexual Predator. It’s Not the First Time.
In the 24 hours after The Washington Post published video of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, numbers of prominent Republicans across the country rescinded their endorsements, some even calling for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race. Democrats and Republicans alike were quick to condemn Trump’s remarks. But for one group of Trump endorsers, the response has been far less damning.
Shortly after the Trump tape surfaced, several top evangelical leaders announced that they would continue to support Trump, in spite of him being, as one commentator put it, “a confessed sex criminal.”
Evangelicals coming to the rescue of sexual abusers is nothing new. In 2015, when reports surfaced that Josh Duggar had committed multiple acts of child molestation against his own sisters, former governor Mike Huckabee issued a statement defending Duggar, calling Duggar’s actions “regrettable” and “mistakes,” and emphasizing that they had occurred when Duggar was “an underage teen.”
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, gave a similar defense of Trump, dismissing the controversy as a “10-year-old tape of a private conversation,” adding that it “ranks pretty low” when compared to issues like abortion.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the same organization Josh Duggar was forced to resign from in 2015, also voiced his support for Trump, clarifying that his endorsement was never based on “shared values” outside of issues like religious liberty.
When Saeed Abedini, evangelical culture’s poster boy for religious freedom, returned earlier this year from a three-and-a-half year imprisonment in Iran, his wife, Naghmeh, filed for legal separation, citing “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.” Amid these allegations, evangelist Franklin Graham hosted Saeed at a North Carolina retreat and issued a public statement questioning the legitimacy of Naghmeh’s claims. Several months later, Saeed was invited as a guest speaker to Liberty University Convocation, where he shared his testimony in front of the entire student body. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and an early Trump endorser, has yet to release a statement regarding Trump’s vulgar comments.
The evangelical community is no stranger to hearing egregious, misogynistic language from a bloviating bully-leader. In 2014, Mark Driscoll, former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, came under fire for posts made to a church message board in which he referred to women as “penis homes” and bemoaned the “pussification” of the American male. Despite being removed from Mars Hill for abusive and domineering leadership practices, Driscoll has gained a new following in Phoenix where he recently launched his own church.
Even more unapologetic is Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, who makes a theological point to vouch for known pedophiles in court while blaming the victims and their families. Last year I wrote about a similar story in which a small town’s religious community gained national attention for standing behind an accused child sex offender and shunning the abuse victim, even after the offender pleaded guilty in court.
According to a recent Pew Research survey, nearly 80% of white evangelical voters back Trump. Johnnie Moore, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, says that while many evangelicals are “disgusted” by Trump’s latest controversy, they will still vote for him. Given evangelical culture’s long track record of defending, rallying around, and giving platforms to abusers, this latest development is hardly unexpected.