After the revelation a week ago last Friday of the crude sexual banter of Trump during an Access Hollywood television shoot, some local evangelicals friendly to Trump's campaign were stunned and ducked for cover. Radio broadcaster and writer Eric Metaxas seemed to beat a fast retreat.
Last summer in an interview with the Christian Post, Metaxas dismissed Trump's sexuality as a small problem compared to bigger issues like appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. "I think Trump would pull us back five feet from the cliff so that we have bought ourselves a little time to keep the republic. I think if Hillary Clinton is elected, we are not going to have that ability."
Then came the sexual assault bragging of Trump that were recorded in the Access Hollywood studio bus. Even while his new third wife was awaiting the birth of their son, Trump said he was on the lookout for someone to kiss and, maybe, to grab their sexual parts. Metaxas tweeted that he was going off-social media to "regroup," but the regrouping turned out to be preparation to launch an all out push to turn out the Christian vote for Trump.
On Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, Metaxas asked, "Should Christians vote for Trump?" Yes, was his answer with the implication God may hold a Christian guilty if he or she do otherwise. The biographer of anti-slave activist William Wilberforce and anti-Nazi plotter Rev. Dietrich Boenhoeffer invoked their desperate fights against evil as an outline of the righteous path today. (One assumes he wasn't hinting that Christians should secretly band together to assassinate Clinton.) However, he warned of an American apocalypse after new Supreme Court judges are appointed and confirmed by the Democrats, "It’s a fact that if Hillary Clinton is elected, ...the genuine liberty and self-government for which millions have died—is gone."
In stark contrast, some NYC evangelicals co-sponsored "A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump" and asked others to sign their statement which is hosted on change.org. The signers cast their dissent in strikingly racial terms. Denouncing Trump's racism and xenophobis, they argued, "A significant mistake in American politics is the media’s continued identification of “evangelical” with mostly white, politically conservative, older men. We are not those evangelicals." InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Kathy Khang retweeted trash talk that cast the Vice Presidential debate as just "two white men talking over abt nothing..."
The NYC signers included the Faith in NY church coalition, which is headquartered in Corona, Queens, Prof Peter Heltzel of the New York Theological Seminary, and Pastor Rich Villodas of New Life Fellowship of Elmhurst, Queens.
With all this clown news, Trump is the real clown we should all be afraid of.
— Rich Villodas (@richvillodas) October 7, 2016
In urging others to join them, the authors said that they were showing a broader view of evangelical Christians that included all ages and all races. They blamed the media’s narrow labels for perpetuating stereotypes of evangelicals. The media descriptions, they wrote, "ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians. We are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. We are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians. We come from a wide range of denominations, churches, and political orientations."
On Friday evening, the declaration had over 20,000 co-signers. Social media was filled with remonstration.
A just released Lifeway Research web survey of a representative sample of 1,000 evangelicals conducted between September 27th and October 1 indicated that as a whole evangelicals are more evenly divided than expected in their preferences for president. 45% support Trump while 31% support Clinton. The gap becomes much wider when race and ethnicity is taken into account. Six White evangelicals support Trump for every one that supports Hillary. Minority evangelicals preferences are almost a direct inverse image in favor of Clinton. Even local White evangelical pastors often have many ethnic and racial majority attenders at their churches.
John Storck, pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Sunnyside, Queens, chided his Friends on Facebook, "As a Christian Pastor, I challenge any self-proclaimed Christian to now defend your vote for the Republican candidate for POTUS in 2016. "Christians" who still defend this candidate, absolutely undermine the Church's prophetic voice in society." He characterized the Trump recording as "disgusting, outrageous, and despicable." (See his call to prayer, fasting and humility at the end of Sunday News.)
A Journey through NYC religions received a large number of emails, phone calls, and social media comments. Most were against Metaxas' vote for Trump.
Peter Armstrong of Dwell Church in lower Manhattan anguished in social media, "#nevermetaxas I'm so disappointed in our NYC brothers in Christ that have cuddled up to Trump (Eric and AR Bernard)." ( Bernard, pastor of a mega-church in East New York says that he joined Trump's advisory council but did not endorse him. After Trump didn't listen to advice from the council, Bernard says he stepped away from that role.)
Jodie Sergeant, who works for community development in Africa observe, "Having heard Eric Metaxas speak more than once and read much of his work I'm not at all surprised this is his view. Personally I think it's HIGHLY inappropriate to suggest guilt in Gods eyes if we don't vote for Trump."
Although the Lifeway survey doesn't show much indecision regarding their vote in November, other surveys indicate a large block of undecided evangelical voters, or at least voters disgusted by both candidates.
According to Barna Research Group, four out of ten evangelicals are now supporting neither Trump nor Clinton: “Nearly three out of ten are presently undecided, making them the largest block of undecided votes still up for grabs. One out of eight evangelicals plan to protest the quality of the major party candidates by voting for a third-party or independent candidate. This behavior by evangelicals is unique over the course of the last nine election cycles.”
Joe Kickasola, a professor from Baylor University presently residing in Manhattan, challenged, "Eric says "Not voting—or voting for a third candidate who cannot win—is a rationalization designed more than anything to assuage our consciences. " Apart from his problematic minimization of the conscience (!!!), I ask: Who are we to say a third candidate "cannot win?" ...If ever there was an election to vote third party, this is surely it. If ever the corruption of both parties was on full display, it is surely here in spades, this year, and they should be called to account. ... and I haven't violated my conscience, which is worth a lot to me, thank you."
Some carefully pushed back, like former New Yorker Joanna Shine Eaves, "There are passionate followers of Christ who can and will equally defend their moral conviction to vote for Trump, Clinton, or a third candidate." Some said a pox on all houses. The problem is America as it is currently constituted.
Others were more blunt. Journalist Kirsten Powers, who became an evangelical through Redeemer Presbyterian Church and later converted to Catholicism, tweeted: "In which an evangelical leader says God will judge you if you don't vote for a man who degrades women. Really sad Eric."
Redeemer's Rev. Tim Keller hasn't made any public announcement on Trump but is appearing with rabid anti-Trump New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof at a Redeemer event on "civility on the public square" on Monday, October 24th. A British Christian media organization Premier quoted Keller observing the campaign with a measured neutrality, "There's a great amount of dissatisfaction not only in tone of it but the choices we have and many people are voting for one because they despise the other one even more."
Some feel that Keller should offer a more definitive interpretation of Trump and the election. City Harvest Church's Leo J. Kim wrote, "I'm a huge fan of TK and I think God uses him in great ways... but I have personally heard him express MANY opinions, some quite controversial.... I think his policy of not speaking at all about political issues outside the pulpit is a luxury that those in the majority enjoyed for too long. I'm glad Bonhoeffer expressed his political opinion. I'm glad the Rev. MLK Jr. expressed political opinions. To not express an opinion says a great deal about privilege that I don't think Tim Keller intends..."
Jonathan Walton, InterVarsity's director of its NYC Urban Project, posted on his twitter feed:
Anthony Bradley, a professor at The King's College and neither a Trump or Hillary supporter, tweeted that the scandal pointed to the problem of American culture in general and the Ivy League universities (like Columbia University?) in particular. He tweeted:
Donald Trump's lewdness is normative male culture at USA colleges, esp. the Ivies. We get the leaders we deserve.
— Anthony Bradley (@drantbradley) October 8, 2016
Evangelicals, who live in Manhattan and had cheered the illusion that GOP's Joe Lhota might become mayor, might not realize that their religious brothers and sisters in the boroughs helped to put Mayor de Blasio into office. (Click graph for more details. It should be noted that last year Lhota, who attends the evangelical leaning All-Angels Church on the Upper West Side, asked the Republican leaders to kick Trump out of the Republican Party after the presidential candidate said that he wanted to ban Muslim refugees from entering the United States).