Has Support for Moore Stained Evangelicals? Some Are Worried

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The bloc that has marched under the banner of the “Moral Majority” and “values voters” has now been tagged as the most reliable base of support for both Mr. Moore and President Trump, two politicians who are known for fanning racial and religious prejudices and who stand accused of sexual harassment by numerous women — accusations that each man denies. White evangelicals across the country delivered 81 percent of their votes to Mr. Trump last year, according to exit poll data, and backed Mr. Moore in Alabama by the same proportion on Tuesday.

“It grieves me,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school in Illinois. “I don’t want ‘evangelical’ to mean people who supported candidates with significant and credible accusations against them. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.”

That notion is bewildering to evangelical leaders who see Mr. Trump as their champion. They say that Mr. Trump has given them more access than any president in recent memory, and has done more to advance their agenda, by appointing judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights; by channeling government funds to private religious schools; by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and by calling for the elimination of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and charitable groups from endorsing political candidates.

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” said Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump” and founder of Charisma Media, a Christian publishing house.

“Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance,” said Mr. Strang, who is a member of the president’s informal council of evangelical advisers. “If he turns out to be a lecher like Bill Clinton, or dishonest in some kind of way, in a way that’s proven, you’ll see the support fade as quick as it came.”

Mr. Strang said that those who talk about Mr. Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

Will Hinton, a web developer in Atlanta, said he knew hundreds of politically conservative evangelicals who had grown increasingly repulsed by the religious right’s leaders, the tone they take and some of the causes and candidates they promote.

Mr. Hinton grew up in the movement as a politically active high school student who spoke at conferences and worked on Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign. Now, at 45, he said he was still an evangelical, still a conservative, but without a political party or movement.

“I have dozens of conservative evangelical friends who were so happy that Roy Moore did not win,” he said, “because the evangelical support for Trump and Roy Moore is ruining the witness for Christ for generations in this country.”


Some evangelicals have expressed concern about their movement being publicly associated with politicians like Roy Moore who have been dogged by scandal.

Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Evangelicals, often known as born-again Christians, belong to many denominations of churches, but they share some basic tenets: believers must accept Jesus as a personal savior, spread the gospel, and regard the Bible as the ultimate authority and the sacrifice of Jesus as necessary for the salvation of humanity.

When it comes to politics, however, the evangelical bloc is not rock solid, and the last year and a half has brought the cracks to the surface. There are evangelicals who took to Mr. Trump early on, evangelicals who were gradually won over, and evangelicals who were and proudly remain #NeverTrump, as some proclaim online.

There are young evangelicals who are disavowing their elders. There are Latino, Asian, black and Native American evangelicals who are outraged at white believers for allying with a president they regard as racist and hostile to immigrants. The black hip-hop artist LeCrae made waves when he recently gave an interview announcing that he had divorced himself from white evangelicalism.

Jemar Tisby, president of “The Witness, a black Christian collective,” a faith-based media company that provides commentary on race, religion and culture, said in an interview that while Mr. Trump was running for office, “we were saying, this man is promoting bigotry, white supremacists find an ally in him and this is going to be bad for us.”

“And not only did they vote for him,” Mr. Tisby continued, “they voted for him in slightly higher numbers than they did for Mitt Romney. It was a sense of betrayal.”

Mr. Tisby, who co-hosts the podcast “Pass the Mic,” said that many blacks who hold evangelical beliefs have been reluctant to identify themselves as evangelicals, and that reluctance was growing.

“It’s counterproductive to identify as evangelical,” he said. “What’s happened with evangelicalism is, it has become so conflated with Republican politics, that you can’t tell where Christianity ends and partisanship begins.”

There are signs that evangelicals have begun to drift away from their solid support for Mr. Trump. A poll conducted from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4 by the Pew Research Center found that the president’s job approval among white evangelical Protestants had fallen to 61 percent, from 78 percent in February.

The association with Mr. Moore troubled some women evangelicals who found his accusers to be credible. Two women said that he had sexually molested them when they were teenagers, and others said that he had taken them out on dates or hounded them at work, accusations that Mr. Moore denies.

Some female evangelicals said on social media that they stayed home rather than vote for either Mr. Moore or his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, whose views on issues like abortion are distant from their own.

Many women have expressed the broader concern that overlooking accusations of sexual misconduct against favored politicians sends a dangerous message that women who come forward can be dismissed in the service of a political agenda.

“We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism,” one prominent evangelical author, Beth Moore, wrote on Twitter the day before the election. “The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.”

People have had the impulse to jettison the evangelical label before, according to Mr. Stetzer of Wheaton College. It came up after the televangelist scandals involving Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s. But the idea received new attention and momentum soon after Mr. Trump was elected.

Mr. Galli, the magazine editor, said he had recently brainstormed a list of 50 to 100 words, looking for a suitable substitute term. Among them: Neo-evangelical, Gospel Christian, Followers of Jesus.

“Purple-cow Christianity,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s the reality underneath that we affirm.”

Correction: December 14, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the given name of a televangelist who was involved in a scandal in the 1980s. He is Jimmy Swaggart, not Jerry.

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