At least two high-profile Southern Baptists just can't get enough bashing Donald Trump supporters. One, obviously, is Russell Moore, who seems to fan the flame he's set to hotter and hotter temperatures. The latest piece Moore posted unexpectedly drew friendly fire from one of his own soldiers in the young, restless, and reformed base camp. It also solicited responses from what some may call more hostile critics (my own contribution may be found in a piece entitled "Is it time for Southern Baptists to get new leadership in Washington?").
The other high-profile Southern Baptist mouthpiece for #NeverTrump is Boyce College professor and Kentucky pastor, Denny Burk, a former colleague with Moore at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before Moore was elected as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Burk's political posts about Donald Trump can often be seen on the heels of something about which his friend and colleague, Russell Moore, has made the latest headlines concerning the political landscape involving the presidential election.1
Denny Burk's latest piece entitled "State GOP conventions sell their souls to destroy #NeverTrump" describes a Politico report indicating that eleven state GOP conventions apparently took "extraordinary measures" over the weekend to "browbeat members into accepting Donald Trump's candidacy for president of the United States." Before I log my response to Burk's criticism and apology for the #NeverTrump coalition to which both Moore and Burk are publicly committed2, I want to briefly note the way Burk frames the issue of the state conventions by describing it as "browbeat[ing] members into accepting Donald Trump's candidacy for president of the United States."
Granting for argument's sake one could legitimately describe state GOP officials as "browbeating" members into accepting Trump as the presidential candidate, how does Burk escape similar criticism that he and his friend and colleague, Russell Moore, has been "browbeating" the evangelical community into distancing itself from Donald Trump as a presidential candidate? Only the most incorrigible reader could argue, in the face of overwhelming public rhetoric to the contrary, that Burk and Moore have been fair, reasonable, and kind toward the evangelical community for lining up for Trump as president. Moore has dubbed evangelical Trump supporters as unchristian, idolaters, and on the wrong side of Jesus just to name a few cards thrown on the table. It's clear Moore's continued indictment of evangelical support for Trump is levied as a strong-arm measure to incite voters against Trump. So why is Burk so concerned about GOP political elites "browbeating" political members?
The truth is, while browbeating members in political circles to fall in line remains an expected practice—perhaps even a routine practice in some cases—what's entirely unexpected is the president of a denominational entity browbeating into submission for his political position not only a broad swath of evangelicalism, but also insulting his own denominational members who unilaterally fund the entity over which he comfortably sits as president. Where's Denny Burk's admonition to Russell Moore to stop browbeating Southern Baptists? Indeed where's Burk's policing when it comes to his own version of browbeating?3
Let's consider some of Burk's most important points in his criticism of state GOP leaders (Burk's words are embolden with my brief response following):
I understand the calculation in the final line from the excerpt: "Trump is flawed, but Hillary Clinton would be far, far worse." If it were true, I think it would justify supporting Trump. But there is no evidence that it is true. And the beleaguered #NeverTrump movement is made up of those who are convinced that it is not true. First, while Burk concedes the major premise for evangelical support of Trump—namely, Clinton would be a far worse president than Trump—he denies there's evidence to support it. The best Burk can log is that we know Trump to be a "pathologically lying authoritarian lecher." Yes, calling people names gets us high-fives in our bubbles of influence, however, it doesn't do much among thinking people.
Indeed arguably Burk is doing nothing more than what Donald Trump did to Ted Cruz by branding him "lyin Ted," a despicable political practice that unfortunately works too often in political campaigns but does little to enhance one's persona as a man or woman of faith. In fact, by intemperately calling Trump a "pathological liar" Burk's criticism of Trump goes even further than Trump's criticism of Cruz since Burk interprets Trump's lying as an official pathological condition (Burk and others better proceed carefully here. Trump is known to have a hair-trigger in initiating litigation against unsuspecting critics. And, even if Trump initiated a lawsuit which had no teeth, he has the bankroll to run his critics into bankruptcy if he wants).
Second, and contrarily, it's flat wrong to suggest no evidence exists that Clinton would be far worse than Trump with the bulk of the evidence from Clinton herself. In fact we can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that a Clinton White House would take our country in the same trajectory as the Obama White House has taken us and even farther to the Left than Obama. There's absolutely no substantial evidence that indicates Trump will go down that path. Nothing.
Third, Burk indicates that the #NeverTrump movement is made up of those who're "convinced that it is not true" that Clinton would be far worse than Trump. I get the impression Burk is implying #NeverTrump supporters are thinking, principled men and women who've carefully and thoroughly thought through this entire issue honestly and with evangelical integrity. But let's hold that for later.
Trump is very popular among voters. His populist appeal has won him support from countless voters across the country (many of whom do not yet understand what he is). This tidal wave is moving statesmen and politicians (who know very well what he is) to support him. They are laying aside principle to go along with someone who they know is unfit for and disqualified from the office he seeks. First, while Burk concedes the populist groundswell of support Trump has managed to capture contra every other Republican candidate, note carefully the subtle, parenthetical description Burk proposes concerning Trump supporters (presumably including evangelical supporters since that's the issue at stake here)— "(many of whom do not yet understand what he is)."
In other words, Trump supporters are ignorant supporters, uninformed supporters, gullible supporters, and supporters, Burk goes on to indicate in the next paragraph, that come "next November or maybe over the next four years" it will become clear about who Trump really is. Burk obviously assumes he's looked at Trump and somehow infallibly discerned who Trump "really is"; consequently, those who disagree will soon see he was right.
My question is, what have evangelical Trump supporters actually stated about Trump other than they happen to reluctantly believe he makes for a better candidate than Hillary Clinton? Trump is routinely conceded by evangelical voters as hardly an ideal candidate including Trump's squishy conservativism, questionable character, and about as rude and personally offensive as a politician can get at times. Not an evangelical Trump voter I've read defends Trump on any of the traits #NeverTrump supporters like Burk continue to cite. So what is it, exactly, Burk predicts Trump supporters will discover and regret when he barks about "come November" all will see what he and Russell Moore now see?
Second, Burk explicitly claims statesmen and politicians who're supporting Trump are "laying aside principle to go along with someone who they know is unfit for and disqualified from the office he seeks." In response, note Burk's tacit assumption that Trump supporters are unprincipled men and women who kowtow to a candidate they "know is unfit for and disqualified from" the presidency while #NeverTrump advocates like he and Moore remain men of integrity among those who are "convinced that it is not true" that Clinton is worse than Trump.
One might also add that for Burk to suggest that GOP leaders know Donald Trump to be "unfit" and "disqualified" from the presidency remains entirely presumptuous. "Unfit" and "disqualified" in what way exactly? Is Trump "unfit" or "disqualified" constitutionally? I don't think he is; but if he is, someone needs to show it. Is Trump "unfit" and "disqualified" morally? Yes and no. Does Trump fail the moral test of conservative, evangelical ethics? Yes. But what candidates who are viable contenders for the presidential office pass the conservative, evangelical ethics examination? Hillary Clinton? Any of the Libertines? Bernie Sanders? Wiley Drake? In addition, both Burk and Moore cite Trump's multiple-marriages as disqualifying him for the Oval Office while conveniently failing to explain how Ronald Reagan's multiple-marriages somehow failed to make him "unfit" for the Oval Office.
As noted above, Burk claims Trump is a "pathologically lying authoritarian lecher" but fails to demonstrate how Trump's supposed lying should be any more concerning than Hillary Clinton's supposed lying or any number of Republicans in office. Neither Burk nor Moore even attempt to show how Trump's alleged lies are "bigger" and therefore more harmful to national security than lies Hillary critics claim.4 So, no. Burk cites no compelling evidence that Trump is any more "unfit" or "disqualified" to serve public office than many other candidates campaigning for or presently serving public office.
In the meantime, we are going to have to watch good men of principle—like Senator Ben Sasse—get censured and maligned. Take note. If you are taking the long view, Senator Sasse is not the one who needs to be ashamed or embarrassed. He will wear his #NeverTrump consistency as a badge of honor. For those with eyes to see, they know that it is already a badge of honor right now. More of the same from Burk. "Good men of principle" like Ben Sasse and all #NeverTrump advocates like Denny Burk and Russell Moore have no fear of being embarrassed or ashamed because they have "eyes to see." For Burk, unprincipled men who now support Donald Trump will be "held to account" in order to "own their dishonor," and be finally seen as the "malevolent collaborators" they are. This type of rhetoric remains among the most hateful political vitriol within any campaign.
The fact is, Donald Trump could not be more offensive toward evangelical voters if he tried than Burk and Moore continue to be. Burk's language in the present piece is well over the acceptable cap when Christians deal with other Christians about politics.
There can be no question but that the GOP is selling its
It apparently never dawns upon Denny Burk and #NeverTrump advocates like Russell Moore that what's presently happening within the Republican Party is not indicative of the GOP selling its soul; rather what's happening within the GOP and Donald Trump's win as presumptive presidential nominee indicate the GOP has already sold its soul. The rise of Donald Trump isn't causing division in the Republican party; division in the Republican party caused the rise of Donald Trump. The GOP sold its political soul long before Donald Trump ascended as a national Republican spokesperson. In a real sense, Donald Trump is what happens when a political party loses touch with the core instincts with which it attracted patriotic voters in the American politic in the first place.
1please know no objection is intended; I'm just making an observation. Indeed, it actually could be a compliment since networking remains a key communication component in getting one's word out!
2Burk was not originally so forged as a #NeverTrump advocate but seemed sympathetic toward, if not convinced that the #StopTrump position was held on principled premises. He appears now not to hold such amicable beliefs about #StopTrump.
3the question is entirely rhetorical. We should not expect a response—at least from Burk.
4nor is it morally acceptable to argue that lies are lies are lies are lies. Some assume there's no such thing as "white lies," a moral category indicating not only that some lies carry with them far less significant consequences as do others (for example, when asked, "How's your day going?" telling someone "Just fine" when you are having the worst day in your recent memory; and lying to one's spouse about being with person A on date B) but also the reality that some lies are morally commendable (for example, the classic case of Corrie Ten Boom lying to the Nazi soldiers about the Jews hiding in her home).