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How evangelicals see President Trump

President Trump is seeking reelection in the fall of 2020, and to win it, he will be relying upon one of his strongest voting blocs: white evangelical Christians. But are there signs emerging of a rift within this previously solid group of Trump supporters? The Christian Post’s Richard Land and the Gospel Coalition’s Collin Hansen join Lisa Desjardins to discuss compromise and Christian values.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are signs emerging of a deepening rift among one of President Trump's strongest voting blocs, white evangelical Christians.

    As the president continues his reelection effort, he will be in Miami tomorrow to kick off the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition.

    Correspondent Lisa Desjardins picks it up from there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A recent editorial published in "Christianity Today," an evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, started a debate during the height of the impeachment vote.

    It called for Trump to be removed from office, saying the president's actions in Ukraine were profoundly immoral. It added: "President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath."

    To explore how the president's support may be shifting or not with evangelicals, I'm joined by Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of "The Christian Post," and Collin Hansen, the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, a network of evangelical churches.

    Thank you both for joining us.

    Dr. Land, let's start with you.

    You wrote a response to the call for impeachment in another publication, your "Christian Post," defending the president and also his Christian supporters.

    Tell us how you see this.

  • Richard Land:

    Well, first of all, I think we're this close to an election. We ought to let the American people decide, through the next election, whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office.

    I think most evangelicals feel that the president, despite misgivings they have about his language or some of his behavior, believe that he's the most pro-life president in the modern era, that he's done more for religious liberty through the appointment of conservative judges and through speaking out for religious liberty around the world, for Muslims, for Christians, for Jews, his statements against anti-Semitism and his actions against anti-Semitism, that he is, at the very least, at the very least, the lesser of two evils against Mrs. Clinton and also against the current crop of Democratic candidates.

    And so I find that most evangelicals still support him. They don't condone everything he does. He was my last choice in the primaries. I know a lot of evangelicals that he was either their second, third, fourth, fifth or last choice in the primaries, but once it became a binary choice between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, we decided that Mr. Trump was the better choice.

    And most of us have been pleasantly surprised that he's done better than we thought he would.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Collin, why didn't you vote for President Trump? And why do you think he shouldn't be president? Does he represent Christian values?

  • Collin Hansen:

    Well, he is our president, and I haven't taken any position on the impeachment proceedings. I think a number of people — I don't think I'm really qualified to be able to speak into that.

    What I have seen with President Trump is actually something similar to what Dr. Land had just talked about. Many evangelicals, like myself, who had been skeptical of him, actually saw — he's actually turned out to be, in some ways, better than we expected.

    And, at the same time, many of the things that we're discouraged by, some of his racially charged comments and some of his — well, basically his constant Twitter presence, are things that were well known to everybody who voted for him last time around. So, in that sense, things haven't changed.

    So, I don't oppose him in that regard. I think the Bible very clearly calls us to vote — or excuse me — not to vote, but to pray for those people in office, whoever they might be, and ultimately to trust them for the outcome.

    My main concern is the perception of white evangelicals as a sort of partisan part of the Republican Party, essentially the Republican Party at prayer. I think that's a problem for the church going forward.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a president who doesn't talk about asking God for forgiveness. He's not known as a churchgoer in general, hadn't been before this.

    And he's someone who right now is accused of using his political power for his own personal gain, which clearly is something that Jesus was against. Jesus was the opposite. Use your power to help people.

    Richard, I want to ask you, then, how do you justify this president, who some people question how he reflects Christian values or not?

  • Richard Land:

    Well, first of all, I would share some of those concerns. And that's why he was my last choice in the primaries.

    But when it comes to trying to save the lives of the 1,150 babies a day that are being aborted in the United States, which I think is a moral issue, Mr. Trump is on the right side of that moral issue. The Democratic Party is trying to make abortion a sacrament.

    In public life, you have to make prudential choices. And I believe that most evangelicals made a prudential choice, the vast majority of them, and will again to vote for someone who is going to seek to protect them from having their own government weaponized against them through the courts, and is going to continue to put conservative, strict constructionist judges on the courts that are going to give the American people the freedom to make their own choices, instead of having them imposed by a judicial imperium, and to protect the unborn in this country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Collin, is this the end justifying the means here? Is that what evangelicals for Trump are accepting?

  • Collin Hansen:

    I was fairly surprised at the outcome in 2016, not only, like everybody else, about President Trump winning, but by the overwhelming support of evangelicals.

    I do think those — that 81 percent doesn't accurately count how many evangelicals sat home and didn't make that same moral calculus described right there.

    But I think I also underestimated the way evangelicals, as basically all Americans do, see our elections, our presidential elections, as a binary choice, as Dr. Land has said. We are not in a parliamentary system. If we were, we would probably see many different options in terms of voting for parties and voting according to their beliefs.

    But, ultimately, I think both political sides make a number of compromises when it comes to the kind of person that they want to be able to carry forward their views. And that's kind of the nature of our two-party system, for better or worse.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Why is it that so evangelical leaders are talking about politics right now, not the ministry? How do you know that politicians are not manipulating you and your voters for their gain?

  • Richard Land:

    Well, let me say, first of all, that most evangelicals I know spend most of their time preaching, most of their time spreading the Gospel, not talking about politics.

    They talk about politics more when they get asked by the media about politics. They do talk about being pro-life. They do talk about being pro-freedom. They do talk about the persecuted Christians and persecuted Muslims overseas and those who are being persecuted by China and those who are being persecuted by India.

    They talk about freedom of conscience.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Collin, I want to ask you, is there a political risk on the other side of this? Some evangelicals might see their goals forwarded by President Trump, but is it possible that politicians could be manipulated by evangelicals or not?

    I don't have an opinion. I'm just wondering.

  • Collin Hansen:

    Yes, there's always that concern that, ultimately, evangelicals may win temporary political battles, but ultimately lose the culture war.

    I don't — I have been very surprised the last number of years just to see how eager both sides are for a cultural war, and how, for as much as we want to talk about foreign policy or talk about economic policy, really, so many of our issues really come down to, are you on this side or that side of this sort of big political game?

    And I do think, insofar as evangelicals are drawn into that kind of game, it does present a major problem in terms of our proclamation of the Gospel long run.

    But I do agree with Dr. Land as well, though, that there's a lot of things that are happening all the time with evangelicals, caring for their neighbors, even suffering, but giving God glory, and loving their neighbors with joy, but those things don't make the news.

    What makes the news is the 25 percent of evangelicals who throw their weight around in politics every four years.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, thank you for this conversation, not just about politics, but about faith.

    Richard Land and Collin Hansen.

  • Richard Land:

    God bless you.

  • Collin Hansen:

    Thank you.

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