In recent weeks, key evangelical leaders who backed former President Donald Trump have begun to show signs of rejecting him, after years of staunch loyalty. But, wrote columnist Michelle Goldberg for The New York Times, there is no moral or spiritual basis for their change of heart — they have just decided he's no longer of any use to them.
"Religion News Service reported that David Lane, the leader of a group devoted to getting conservative Christian pastors into office, recently sent out an email criticizing Trump for subordinating his MAGA vision 'to personal grievances and self-importance,'" wrote Goldberg. "On Monday, Semafor quoted Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent Christian conservative activist in Iowa, saying that evangelicals weren’t sure that Trump could win. Even Robert Jeffress, a Dallas televangelist whom Texas Monthly once described as 'Trump’s Apostle,' is holding off on endorsing him again, telling Newsweek that he doesn’t want to be part of a Republican civil war."
Russell Moore, the editor of Christianity Today and one of the few key evangelical leaders who consistently opposed Trump's candidacy from the start, takes a dim view of the shift going on in the community — noting that among evangelical voters, they are still evenly divided on Trump and leaders could run right back to the former president if their parishioners do. And there is reason to think they could.
"The last six years, said Moore, has changed the character of conservative evangelicalism, making it at once more militant and more apocalyptic — in other words, more Trump-like," wrote Goldberg. "For some people, Trump may even be the impetus for their faith: a Pew survey found that 16 percent of white Trump supporters who didn’t identify as born-again or evangelical in 2016 had adopted those designations by 2020. 'I see much more dismissal of Sermon on the Mount characteristics among some Christians than we would have seen before,' Moore said, referring to Jesus’ exhortation to turn the other cheek and love your enemies."
Instead, Moore said, these evangelicals view "kindness as weakness" — and the community could get more radicalized in certain places, because those opposed to it are splitting off into their own faction.
A recent essay by evangelical leader Mike Evans in The Washington Post has gotten heavy traction; in it, Evans remarked that “He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us.” But, wrote Goldberg, it's actually the opposite. "Contrary to Evans’s lament, no one had to close his mouth and eyes. The Republicans chose to because they wanted power, and their critique now is largely about power lost."