Just as Donald Trump was endorsing inoculation against COVID-19 with bleach, and then lied about what he said, Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, joined Rod Dreher and Jerry Falwell Jr. in endorsing Trump for a second term. While Mohler didn’t vote for Trump the first time around, Mohler said that he now shares Trump’s worldview, even if he is occasionally “frustrated” by him.
When some evangelicals pushed back, wondering if Mohler had paid too high a price for dinner at the White House, Daniel Strand – an assistant professor at the USAF Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama – defended him in the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s online magazine Providence under the headline, “Evangelicals Need More Pragmatism and Less Moralism.”  Strand is thrilled that evangelical leaders like Mohler are at last abandoning their naive “over-moralizing of politics.”
Strand has done graduate work in ethics and knows that “Politics is more than ethics…. Ethics and character are part of the equation, but only a part.” Which part? (Karl Barth, when asked to define sin, replied, “A PhD in ethics.”)
“I want my politicians to be moral but also effective. I want them to have character but also competency, understanding, and skill….” For the first time in history somebody has connected “competency, understanding, and skill” with Trump. Professor, check out your claim of Trumpian competence with a nurse or grocery store worker.
Strand praises the Donald’s “track record on judicial appointments and defense of religious liberty.” Though “Compromise is a dirty word these days,” Strand can show you how.
Strand says that “character” isn’t all that it’s made out to be. Abraham Lincoln despite “enjoying a recent resurgence of love and admiration, was not above political chicanery and tricks,” Strand says. “But when Trump does this more brazenly and brashly, we are told this is unprecedented and a corruption of politics.” Strand may be a better Christian than I am if he can forgive Trump for buying his way out of the Army when Trump and I were students during Vietnam. (I didn’t. I don’t.)
Strand admits that Trump is not “without major flaws,” But quibbling about Trump’s lies, adultery, racism, or corruption overlooks that by appointing the right people to the Supreme Court he has saved “the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.” To quibble about Trump’s character just “shows how narrow-minded moral politics can make us.”
Chiding all the narrow-minded fellow Evangelicals who make such a big deal over adultery, serial divorce, prostitution, lying, racism, caging kids, cozying up to the Russians, and shady business deals, Strand says, “Evangelicals need to move away from moralistic politics.” He then scolds Evangelicals for believing that, “Republican politicians were the sole possessors of ‘virtue’ or ‘character’…. They are flawed human beings, like the rest of us, and Christians need to reject this sort of hyper-moralizing tendency,” building to the whopper, “Christians need to get a big fat dose of realism.” Reinhold Niebuhr would be shocked to know that his “Christian realism” is now used by the Evangelicals (whom he despised) to jettison historic Christian moral virtues.
“What we need is a principled pragmatism…. We can work with morally flawed people…. The perfect is the enemy of the good.” (John Wesley is rolling over in his grave.) “If we are people who understand that we are fallen sinners, then this should be no problem.” “All the handwringing about Trump is tiresome…. Character matters, but it’s not all that matters.”
When Trump jilted the government and all of those veterans out of their money in Trump University, maybe he wouldn’t have lost his case if he had defended himself on grounds of realism. “I’m not a crook; I’m a pragmatist!”.
Call me an old-fashioned, narrow-minded, unrealistic, idealistic, moralizing Evangelical. If a man will lie to his wife and family, he will lie to the voters. If someone bears false witness against immigrant families at the border, who knows what he’ll say about my family? Ironic that there are those who for the sake of opposing abortion will lay aside all ethical concerns and support the man who may be the only President in history to have actually paid for his mistress to have an abortion.
I’m not sure if American Evangelicals who defend Trump are being pragmatic or realistic but I’m really sure they are not being evangelical and thereby doing incalculable damage to evangelicalism.
Speaking of Evangelicalism, two topics that neither Mohler nor Strand mention in their Trumped-up statements: COVID-19 or Christ.
Good call, Mohler and Strand. Wise, realistic, pragmatic omissions.
 Daniel Strand, “Evangelicals Need More Pragmatism and Less Moralism,” Providence (Institute on Religion and Democracy, April 22, 2020), https://providencemag.com/2020/04/evangelicals-need-more-pragmatism-less-moralism-al-mohler/)