But Republican leaders have come up with a novel spin to convince Christian conservatives not to be all judgy about Donald Trump. In the RNC’s kinder, gentler world, judging Trump for the terrible things he has said and done would be the unchristian thing to do.
That was the head-scratching argument coming from RNC chairman Reince Priebus and past White House hopeful Ben Carson on Sunday as they responded to a New York Times story that detailed Trump’s often ugly encounters with women in his personal and professional lives.
“As a Christian, what I do is not judge everybody,” Carson told Fox & Friends when asked if he is comfortable with the way Trump treats women. “And that seems to be something that a lot of people have got into. ‘I’m better than you are.’ Give me a break. Let’s just stop for a moment. And I’m talking to conservatives.”
Carson dismissed conservatives’ very real misgivings about Trump’s character as “irrelevant.” It’s Trump as a president that counts, he said. “What we need to be talking about are your children and your grandchildren’s future.”
Priebus had a similar Christians-chill-out message on ABC’s This Week when he was asked to respond to the Times piece.
“I think there are things from many years ago and I think that, you know, as Christians, judging each other, I think, is problematic,” Priebus said. “I think it’s when people live in glass houses and throw stones is when people get in trouble.”
Priebus’s live-and-let-live standard will come as welcome news to Bill and Hillary Clinton, whom Republicans are reportedly planning to attack for everything from Bill’s past intern escapades to Hillary’s wayward cattle futures investments.
The ethical hall pass for Trump is also a notable change for a party that has long relied on evangelicals to win elections and is currently pushing a pledge on its website for religious conservatives promising to “vote their values on Election Day.”
The conflict is at the heart of an ongoing struggle among Christian conservatives as they come to grips with the fact that the Republican Party, which is supposed to champion Christian values, has chosen as its nominee for president a man who appears to have none.
In January, Erick Erickson wrote a blistering critique of evangelical pastors supporting Trump, only to get an earful from many who scolded him for passing judgement on the brash New Yorker. Erickson responded in kind with a column headlined simply, “Yes, Christian, you are supposed to judge Donald Trump.” In it, Erickson argued that not only are Christians permitted to openly examine Trump’s past conduct, it is their obligation as people of faith to do so.
But like Carson and Priebus, Liberty University president (and Trump supporter) Jerry Falwell, Jr. has dismissed the idea that Trump should be held up to any special standard, declaring in March that since politicians never keep their promises anyway, evangelicals should just pick whoever looks like a strong leader and skip the rest. “We’re not voting for pastor-in-chief,” Falwell said.
The judge-not argument coming from Priebus, Falwell, and other Republicans deeply troubles Mike Gonzalez, a pastor in South Carolina who supported Cruz for president.
“As far as ‘Judge not lest you be judged,’ they’re taking that scripture out of context,” Gonzalez said of Carson and Priebus. “Christians are to judge every day. We are to judge our words. We are to judge our actions. Even Jesus said, ‘Let me know you by your fruits.’ How are you going to know if a prophet is telling the truth or not? Watch his life, watch what he does.”
Gonzalez said Trump’s ever-changing policies bothered him, but he found the billionaire’s past insults of women, the press, and Cruz and his family to be even worse. The pastor said he worries about children growing up in a world like Trump’s, where words and actions have no consequences.
“It’s just not what I think the president of the United States should live out,” Gonzalez said of Trump’s behavior. “It’s not that I won’t forgive you, but will I support you? No way.”
On a broader scale, Gonzalez said something that should worry Priebus deeply—that Christians should pass judgment not just on Trump but on the Republican Party itself.
“I’m not just going to support whoever the GOP has because I’m supposed to,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t have to do that and I think it’s past time that we say, ‘We’re not going to do this anymore.’”