There are many kinds of Baptists, but I find the political loyalties of certain prominent Baptists puzzling if not startling.
Their devotion to Donald Trump is unwavering, despite anything he says or does that is contrary to the way of Jesus, to which they claim also to be committed.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, has been a staunch ally of the president since before his election.
In a January 2019 interview with The Washington Post, he was asked if there was anything Trump could do to endanger his support or that of other evangelical leaders.
Falwell replied “no.”
After further prompting, he said, “I know that he only wants what’s best for the country, and I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically ‘conservative,’ but … I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”
Since then, Trump has alienated leaders and nations with arrogant behavior, diminishing the reputation of the American presidency around the world.
He has divided Americans by separating immigrant children from their parents at our southern border, rescinding LGBTQ legal protections and increasing military spending by cuts to nondefense programs.
The president has weakened our democracy with attacks on the press, subversion of the Department of Justice and law enforcement, rejection of the separation of powers, attempts to influence the coming election by claiming mail-in ballots will lead to massive voter fraud and staging his contrived Bible photo op.
He has threatened the well-being of future generations by overturning environmental protections and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Does Falwell believe these actions are what’s best for our country?
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, is one of Trump’s most vocal defenders.
Speaking on Fox Business Network during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Jeffress was giddy with anticipation that the tactic would force financial support for Trump’s border wall.
He intoned, “What is immoral is for Democrats to continue to try to block this president from performing his God-given task of protecting this nation.”
Yet Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to withdraw from NATO, forcing Congress to pass the NATO Support Act.
He has accepted Russia’s denial of the 2016 election tampering rather than the evidence of all U.S. intelligence agencies.
He has courted the favor of notorious despots like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Mohammed bin Salman, Tayyip Erdoǧan and Rodrigo Duterte.
He has pushed his multiple billion-dollar border wall – despite opposition from hundreds of cities, organizations, government officials and concerned citizens – in order to create a permanent, personal “trophy” and placate his base.
If Trump has a “God-given task of protecting this nation,” I am puzzled Jeffress thinks the president is fulfilling that calling.
Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has selective attention when observing the president.
In a November 2019 radio conversation, he said, “I believe that Donald Trump … believes in God. He believes in Jesus Christ,” adding “I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying [to undermine him].”
Graham’s description of Trump and his opponents is bizarre.
The president gives no indication he tries to live by what Jesus taught and modeled, as I noted previously.
Furthermore, his critics are not portrayed as merely wrong but utterly demonic – a spiritual rather than a political rationale.
I am puzzled the son of Billy Graham can cavalierly conclude that Trump is a Jesus follower while those who disagree with him are followers of Satan.
Mike Huckabee, former pastor, Arkansas governor, presidential candidate and Fox News contributor, is another outspoken Trump enthusiast.
According to January 2020 article in the Daily Wire, Huckabee declared “some [‘Never-Trumpers’] say, ‘But I don’t like his personality.’ Well, get over it … because if they don’t, they’re gonna’ get Joe Biden.”
What worries Trump’s critics, however, is not his personality, but his words and actions.
He has tweeted insults and unfounded accusations about his enemies.
He has ridiculed handicapped journalists, used profanity to describe poor African nations, called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” banned Muslim refugees as if all were terrorists and belittled his political opponents with middle-school name-calling.
He has suggested active-duty soldiers should be sent to our nation’s cities to “dominate the streets” and even threatened to impose martial law.
The recent response to George Floyd’s family illustrates the difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Trump placed a two-minute phone call in which – according to Philonise, George’s brother – there was no opportunity to voice their pain because of the brevity and rush of the communication.
Biden not only telephoned, but also traveled to Houston, spent a half hour in private conversation with the family and recorded a compassionate video message for the Houston funeral.
I am puzzled Huckabee suggests a vote for Trump is simply about personality; it is about character.
Then I recall what these Baptists have received for their loyalty.
Falwell welcomed Trump to speak in Liberty’s 2017 commencement, enjoying Trump’s praise of him before a packed arena of students and families, convinced his recruitment numbers would soar.
Jeffress led the dedicatory prayer at the 2018 opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, making him the hero of a host of Christian Zionists.
Graham offered the prayer for Trump at the 2016 inauguration, which was viewed by millions on television and live streaming.
And Huckabee had the satisfaction of seeing his daughter, Sarah, regularly speak for Trump as White House press secretary.
Considering these benefits of their unabashed support of Donald Trump – and how they have been welcomed into the halls of power – maybe it is not so puzzling after all.
Robert P. Sellers, PhD, is Professor of Theology and Missions Emeritus from Logsdon Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University, and the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.