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Evangelicals finally grasp the obvious about Donald Trump

News flash: The former president may not be an exemplar of religious values.

Attendees prayed together before Donald Trump addressed the crowd at the King Jesus International Ministry during a rally in Miami on Jan. 3, 2020.Scott McIntyre/For The Washington Post

There’s nothing quite so strange as other people’s romances, one wit noted, back in the days before Marjorie Taylor Greene.

That’s as true in politics as it is in love. In the political world, there’s been very little stranger than the evangelical community’s embrace of Donald Trump.

If, as I did, you watched religious intolerants course loudly and zealously around Beacon Hill during the gay marriage debate of 2003-2007, their outstretched fingers sometimes wagging in self-perceived reception of heavenly guidance, well, like me, you might conclude there’s a strong element of self-delusion to those who imagine they possess a personal pipeline to divine political preference.


My deduction there has been reinforced by the time I’ve spent in Iowa covering the caucuses — and encountering religious voters who make their decision about whom to support based on criteria that’s so lightly tied to reality as to qualify as nonsensical. Some search for complex clues signaling whom the lord would like them to support. Why? Well, because God is not going to make his preference simple for them to puzzle out, one hyper-religious fruitcake — um, deeply devoted caucus participant — explained to me some years back.

I recount all that by way of saying that those who take the decisions and determinations of evangelicals seriously do so at their own risk. It is not, to put it charitably, a community that is always lightning quick on the uptake.

Just look at the way they got duped by Donald Trump.

After Trump delivered a January 2016, speech at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. cast this sharp-as-a-meatball judgment: “Mr. Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the New Testament.” Falwell himself, as events subsequently revealed, seems to lean somewhat more toward the lifestyle Hugh Hefner preached in the Playboy Mansion.


More problems would soon rear their heads. Like, say, Trump’s explanation of his grab-them-by-the-privates approach to dating.

And yet, some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for the thrice-married Trump in 2016. And stuck with him even after the news that Michael Cohen, Trump’s then fixer, had paid porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her (alleged) liaison with Trump.

Perhaps my favorite rationalization came from Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham. Those with long historical memories may recall that Billy lent his approving aura to Richard Nixon. But after hearing Nixon on some of the Watergate tapes, he was reportedly nauseated by the feeling that he had been duped.

Alas, son Franklin has not proved a similarly quick study. Not when it came to Trump. He originally believed, or professed to believe, that Trump had learned from his mistakes and was a better man for them.

“As human beings, we’re all flawed, including Franklin Graham,” he observed. Yes indeed, and particularly in the judgment department. Why, well into Trump’s term, poor Franklin persisted in thinking that God had somehow used his agency to make Trump president.


He would have done better to read a little less scripture and a little more of French woman of letters Madame de Staël; particularly her piquant observation that “men do not change. They unmask themselves.”


But there’s good news.

Seven years on, at least some in the evangelical community are realizing that they were taken for a ride. More and more conservative religious leaders are declaring they won’t support Trump again — or are pointedly keeping their primary powder dry.

“The average evangelical Christian is a faith-based person,” conservative religious commentator Mike Evans, an early Trump ally in 2016, told the The Jerusalem Post. “Donald Trump does not personify Biblical values.” He enlarged on those sentiments to The Washington Post: “He used us to win the White House.”

In November, conservative Iowa religious leader Bob Vander Plaats, who overcame his ambivalence to back Trump in 2016, tweeted that “it’s time to turn the page” on the former president. “There’s no doubt [evangelicals’] enthusiasm has greatly waned on the former president,” he told CBS.

Televangelist James Robison, an erstwhile Trump ally, called him a “little elementary schoolchild” in a recent speech to Christian lawmakers.

As they say about the sunrise in one of our beloved Massachusetts towns, light dawns on Marblehead.

Even Franklin Graham finally appears to be having second thoughts. He won’t be endorsing preprimary, he noted recently. Ditto for Robert Jeffress, pastor at the First Baptist Dallas Church, previously a Trump enthusiast.

What in the world will the rest of us do?

After all, rational, real-world voters always benefit from a recommendation from the muddleheaded that they can use as a convenient counter-indicator when it comes to perceptive voting.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.