Will There Be a Backlash Against Evangelicals?
KEVIN HARRIS: Hey, there! It’s Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Come on in. I’m Kevin Harris. It is so interesting to hear this podcast today because we recorded this podcast right before the pandemic broke out. When you listen to it now you are thinking, Man, if we only knew what was coming. But still, some of the things that we are going to talk about today are still very pertinent to what is going on, they have just been overshadowed by some of the things in the news. The news changes every day, so it is kind of hard to keep up. Dr. Craig and Jan are doing well. We are going to be getting an update from him very soon right here on this podcast. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, please go to ReasonableFaith.org. Any gift that you give is so appreciated to help us continue the work of Reasonable Faith all over the world. Please do so. Go to ReasonableFaith.org. You can donate right there. Thanks for being here.
Bill, I want to go on Facebook and look at other social media. There are a lot of people who want to know what you think about current politics and social issues. Even though you are a philosopher and theologian, they really want to get your take on some things. Boy, when we get into politics, that can get sticky. They want to know what you think about President Trump – why so many evangelicals tend to support him. But I think that the big question is: Is there a possibility of a backlash against evangelical Christians because of their support of Trump because we are so divided in the country?
DR. CRAIG: This is a real worry. Recently, Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote an editorial in which he predicted such a backlash. He argued that because of the way in which evangelicals are cozying up to Donald Trump (despite the man’s personal character and past) that is going to backfire on evangelicals in the future and that there is going to be a reaction against them, turning away from Christianity, so that in the end he fears that Trump’s presidency and the evangelical alliance with him may be to the detriment to the cause of Christ in our country. That is a really good question that we all need to ask ourselves, I think.
KEVIN HARRIS: Why is there so much support in the first place if it is so controversial and if it could cause backlash? Why do you think it is that evangelicals by-and-large really do support him?
DR. CRAIG: I think for the most part it's because Trump supports the policies that they believe in and that therefore they will support him because of the overriding issue of policy matters on which they are in accord. I think that evangelicals really came of age politically as a result of the Carter presidency. When Jimmy Carter ran for president as a Democrat, so many evangelicals were excited because they said, He's one of us. He's a Southern Baptist. He teaches a Sunday School class. He talks about being born again. I remember at the time being excited that I could pray for a president now who was my brother in Christ and who was in tune with God and that God would be a work in his life and directing him. So many evangelicals, I think, were very enthusiastic about President Carter and his candidacy because of his evident Christian faith. That led to then a bitter disappointment with Carter when he turned out to be in their view weak and ineffectual. He turned out to be just a one-term president. And instead Ronald Reagan was elected (a divorcee, which at that time was scandalous), not to all signs an evangelical Christian himself, but who at least gave lip service to the causes that evangelicals believed in. I think what evangelicals saw at that time is that it really isn't important what a person's personal beliefs are. What matters is what policies do they support and push. For all of his personal deficits, I think evangelicals have recognized that Trump has been ardently supportive of pro-life causes and appointing conservative justices to the courts – two justices now to the Supreme Court. If he gets a second term he may get more Supreme Court appointments. It could turn the court around. I agree with Joe Biden when he says that a Trump reelection could change the fundamental culture of the United States into the future – a change that Biden would not welcome, but which evangelicals, I think, would welcome because it would perhaps overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion-on-demand and send the issue back to the states where the people and their elected representatives could decide what they want to do about this issue. So Trump has been ardently pro-life. Secondly he has supported religious liberty. You think of the overstepping of its bounds in Colorado of the court that ruled that a baker had to put a pro-homosexual or gay message on a wedding cake that he had created when he said, No, this violates my free speech. I cannot be compelled to utter speech in the form of the decorated cake that is against my beliefs. And Trump has supported religious liberty against the encroachments of political correctness which are very strong in our culture. And then religious persecution. Look at the way Trump has called out nations that are involved in religious persecution and not just of Christians. He has called out China (with whom he's trying to negotiate a trade deal, for goodness sake!) for their atrocities of religious persecution. They're throwing thousands of Muslim Uighurs into concentration camps in China. Trump has had the courage to call them out on this despite needing a trade deal with China. Tremendous courage. So over and over again, evangelicals have seen that for all his deficits Trump is supporting the policies that they like. At the recent presidential prayer breakfast, one evangelical pastor said, It's unlike anything that many of us have seen. We don't agree with everything he says or does, but we are thankful for his policy for being pro-life and for traditional family. One person rather colorfully put it. He said, As long as Trump is adopting pro-life policies, I don't care if he runs a dogfighting ring in his private life. That's a colorful way of saying that what really matters for supporting Trump would be the policies that he supports. I think it's for that reason that many evangelicals are supporting him even though he doesn't exemplify the sort of Christian character that they would hope for in a president.
KEVIN HARRIS: The left has to know that. They've got to know that it's the policies that evangelicals support. That we don't approve of him using profanity in the Oval Office and things like that (even though probably every president has, just not as quite as publicly). Or some of his colorful playboy past and things like that. They know that that's not why we applaud him or tend to applaud him as evangelicals. “Oh, we're glad he does that.” No. No. Like you just said. But they have to know. But they still like to needle and really get in our faces about that.
DR. CRAIG: Well, I don't know. I've been asked this question by newspaper columnists and others. They seem genuinely baffled as to how evangelicals can support someone who is so contrary to Christian values in his personal life – so narcissistic and infantile and supporting gambling interests and meat-market beauty contests that Christians would not admire. But it's the policies that he supports. I think, as I say, as a result of the Carter presidency, Christians came to realize that it is the policies that really matter and not a person's personal religious life or convictions.
KEVIN HARRIS: There's a quote, and it's been attributed to Martin Luther but there's some dispute as to who actually said it, and it is, “I'd rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.”
DR. CRAIG: Wow.
KEVIN HARRIS: A lot of people have put that in their biography. I've seen that quote for years. Because no matter who said it, it's a principle and sounds like what you're saying here.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, I think evangelicals have come to realize this, but that doesn't address the question that you began with, and that is: Will evangelicals cozying up to Trump cause a backlash against Christianity, and how can we prevent this from happening? I was recently on a panel discussion with one of my philosophy colleagues, and he said most passionately that university students today hate (and he emphasized it – hate) Christianity because of Christians’ affiliation with Donald Trump. They see evangelicals as being in bed with the right-wing Republican party with Donald Trump, and they hate them for that. And it is an enormous obstacle to the reception of the Gospel. So how do we overcome that?
KEVIN HARRIS: Have you thought about what we do either to prevent a backlash or to deal with the backlash that is already starting to filter in?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. I wonder whether there is a backlash yet. I would like to see evidence of it. I think that there are fears of it. People worry. But so far I haven't seen it. I suspect that people are reacting to evangelical support of conservative policy positions like being against same-sex marriage or being pro-life, for example. And just taking those positions will alienate much of our culture. It's just almost unavoidable that on certain moral issues we are going to take positions that are countercultural as Christians. One is just going to have to accept that, and then try to minimize it in some way. Now, for my part, as a somewhat public figure, I have to remain a-political. I cannot be seen as endorsing a particular political candidate or party. What I can do is speak to issues like pro-life issues or sanctity of marriage. Those are ethical and spiritual issues to which I can speak forthrightly and have done so but without endorsing a particular political candidate or party. But for the average person, I think he needs to be engaged in political discussion and arguing with his friends and family members about which candidate to vote for and how one ought to cast his ballot. That's important for us as Christian citizens to be engaged in the political dialogue. I think that probably the best advice I could give would be to be balanced in our assessment of the president. To not be sycophants where we just applaud everything he does and believe everything about him, but to be measured in supporting certain policies but then in dissenting or denouncing certain behaviors or character flaws that we discern. I think that a good many evangelicals today will decry the president's personal behavior or character and yet at the same time support his policies because they believe ardently in pro-life issues, in religious liberty, and in religious freedom, and are against religious persecution. What we need to avoid, I think, was illustrated recently by the response of Jerry Falwell, Jr. to this Mark Galli editorial in Christianity Today in calling for Trump's impeachment. What Falwell did in response to this was terrifying to me. He basically said, Who are you to judge another person's character? That's pharisaical to say that someone else is behaving immorally. You're no better than they are. And Jesus calls upon us to not judge others. And I thought, for goodness sake, he's lapsed into “I'm okay, you're okay” kind of theology where this is usually the line of relativism – that you're not able to make moral judgments and therefore you shouldn't make moral judgments about the president's behavior. That kind of moral relativism, I think, is worse than the sort of failure to support the president. This kind of blind, relativistic justification for his being pro-Trump is disastrous for Christianity. This is a real danger that I would fear. So I would say let's be balanced in our assessment of the president.
KEVIN HARRIS: In conclusion, I would think that because this society is so divided right now (I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime) many are afraid that Christians will cave in to the culture rather than stand for these principles that you've asked us to stand for. You've made a point we can address issues and not people. So – what? – can we use our platform to do that? To speak to the issues despite personalities involved?
DR. CRAIG: Oh, absolutely. The issues are ethical and therefore transcendent and are not tied to particular political candidates.
KEVIN HARRIS: Paul said to speak the truth in love, so I suppose that we need a good dose of God’s love when we do this.
DR. CRAIG: And a good dose of courage.
 Total Running Time: 17:28 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)