Tony Perkins

Concerning evangelicals, Trump and Stormy Daniels, named sources are more credible

Concerning evangelicals, Trump and Stormy Daniels, named sources are more credible

First is not always best.

That's my quick critique of the NPR story that made such a splash Friday. You know, the one that reported evangelical leaders are very concerned about swirling allegations "about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter." 

Those leaders, NPR said, "are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June."

Alrighty, but where's the story coming from?

The answer would be "four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting." In other words, we have what has become all too frustratingly common in the Trump era: a narrative based on anonymous voices.

Bottom line: Such sources know what they're talking about. Or they don't. You can trust them. Or you can't. And therein lies the problem.

I'll admit my bias: I wish major news organizations would stop using anonymous sources (who have an agenda or wouldn't be talking). Make people go on the record (so readers will have more information on which to judge a source's agenda). Or simply don't quote them. It's that simple.

Anonymous sources do nothing to improve the credibility of journalism in an age in which the president of the United States scores cheap political points by criticizing what he calls the #FakeNews media.

After quoting the anonymous sources, NPR includes a named source — yah! — who pooh-poohs much of the earlier storyline:

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If hundreds of evangelicals gather, but don't talk about Trump, do they make a sound?

If hundreds of evangelicals gather, but don't talk about Trump, do they make a sound?

See that question up there in the headline?

It's kind of a Zen question, isn't it? The reality on the ground is that hundreds of evangelicals recently met for an event called Evangelicals For Life that coincided with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. There were major groups behind this -- the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family. It wasn't minor league.

However, if you check out the videos from the conference (click here for some archives), you'll notice that most of the talk at this event focused on abortion and other life-related issues -- but primarily looked at these subjects through the lens of ministry, as opposed to partisan politics.

Oh, there was some political talk about the U.S. Supreme Court, of course. Legislative battles loomed in the background. But if you listened carefully, few people were making references to a certain New York billionaire in the White House. Some of the primary speakers were from the world of #NeverTrump #NeverHillary.

So did anything newsworthy take place at this event?

It would appear not, if you surf around in Google News looking for mainstream -- especially elite -- news coverage. That was the hook for my Universal syndicate column this past week, as well as for this week's "Crossroads" podcast session with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

Why the lack of coverage? I mean, there were influential people there -- some Democrats as well as Republicans. We are talking about real, live, evangelical folks.

Ah, but were they REALLY evangelicals, since it appears that many of them are not part of the massive choir of Donald Trump-worshipping "evangelicals" that we read about day after day in the media? After all, 80-plus percent of American evangelicals worship the ground on which Trump struts, right?

Well, I have a theory about that, one centering on the evidence that roughly half of the white evangelicals who voted for Trump in the election really didn't want to. The way I see it, the "evangelical" tent in American life is currently divided into six different camps.

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Happy Trump-idays! The real reason for so much winning and saying 'Merry Christmas' this season

Happy Trump-idays! The real reason for so much winning and saying 'Merry Christmas' this season

Thank you, President Trump!

Because of you, my family was able to celebrate and say "Merry Christmas" this holiday season. That's something we haven't been able to do since ... last Christmas.

As GetReligion readers probably heard, the president congratulated himself in a Christmas Eve tweet: "People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!"

So much winning — and Christmas spirit!

But personally, I identified with the response of Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, to Trump's tweet: "So, was this a thing that I missed? Were some of you really ashamed of saying Merry Christmas before the election? Or afraid to? Teach me — are you proud and more bold now? What?" (See Stetzer's Twitter timeline for some excellent feedback that he received.)

Here's the deal, though: Trump's emphasis on Christmas — like his "Make America Great Again" slogan — has tapped into something deeper than saying Merry Christmas, as a nice PBS Newshour segment noted Monday night.

I recall that when I interviewed Robert Jeffress, one of Trump's key evangelical advisers, earlier this year, I asked about the Christmas issue.

Jeffress told me:

People say, 'Well, what’s the big deal about Merry Christmas? I think President Trump understands that Christianity has been marginalized in our country. For the two years I’ve known him, he’s talked about that quite a bit, the marginalization of Christianity. He certainly believes that people of all faiths or no faith ought to have the right to practice whatever faith they have. But he’s noticed the decline of Christianity in America, and that concerns him.

Real war on Christmas or not (for what it's worth, the Washington Post's opinion Twitter account thought Dec. 25 was a great day to question Jesus' existence), Trump's Christmas focus seems to have resonated with much of his evangelical Christian base.

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A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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Spotting a religion ghost in New York Times water-cooler zinger on non-Trump GOP options

Spotting a religion ghost in New York Times water-cooler zinger on non-Trump GOP options

This had to be last weekend's chatter-producing headline in the tense territory defined by the DC Beltway. If you missed it, the New York Times proclaimed: "Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Grow."

Let me stress that this story was produced by the political desk, with zero visible contributions from a religion-beat professional. I would argue that this shaped the contents of the story in a negative way, creating a big faith-shaped hole. Thus, this is a classic example of a news story that's haunted by a religion ghost. We say "boo" to that, as always.

The key to the story is the chaos and political dirt that follows President Donald Trump around like the cloud that hovers over the Peanuts character named Pig-Pen. During the campaign, this led some Republicans to openly discuss running a third-party candidate against Trump. Others stressed that they were not voting for Trump, but against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thus, the story opens like this:

 

WASHINGTON -- Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.
President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 -- as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.
The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles.

Now, there are multiple parallel universes lurking in phrases like the "party's most prominent donors" and "conservative interest groups." Some of the powers hidden in those words are secular. Some of them are linked to groups defined, primarily, by moral, cultural and religious interests.

But let's start with one simple question: If you were looking for the most vocal supporters of Sasse and Cotton, where would you start?

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Rolling Stone, Slate note the lack of God-talk during Donald Trump's victory lap

Rolling Stone, Slate note the lack of God-talk during Donald Trump's victory lap

Although he threw in everything but the kitchen sink, Donald Trump barely mentioned religion or culture wars themes during his 116-minute speech Thursday night. As the Charlotte Observer noted, were it not for Mike Pence, the God mentions by major speakers at this convention would have been pretty sparse.

Maybe that's because Trump knows that nearly every time he refers to the Bible, he makes some kind of mistake? It's one thing to mess up in front of Liberty University students; it's another to goof up when you're accepting your party's nomination for President. 

For the record, here's the only religion content in Trump's speech:

At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community in general who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.
I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.

An earlier draft of Trump's speech that got leaked did not have the words “and religious.”

Here's an explanation of that Johnson amendment, courtesy of Politifact. Thursday night was such sparse pickings for anyone looking for divine content that Slate termed it "The GOP's Godless Convention." Fortunately for us, Rolling Stone -- yes, Rolling Stone -- released this analysis Thursday afternoon about infighting among evangelicals over the GOP nominee.

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Must we keep talking about Citizen Trump and evangelicals? We must, we must ...

Must we keep talking about Citizen Trump and evangelicals? We must, we must ...

First things first: Why the nod to the classic farce "Blazing Saddles" at the end of the headline for this post?

Well, why not? Don't you sense the hand of comedy genius Mel Brooks behind the scenes in this election year? Believe me when I say, "I do, I do."

Thus, People keep asking me things like, "Why are we still talking about Donald Trump and the evangelicals?" Of course, the word "evangelicals" in this case has little or nothing to do with theology. It is a reference to one camp -- stress, one camp -- of mostly white evangelicals who at this point in time are either supporting Trump or who have not made up their minds on the issue.

We are still talking about them because no Republican has a chance to reach the White House in the era after Roe v. Wade without a massive turn out by these highly motivated voters. Republican winners also need strong support from conservative (think daily Mass) and middle-of-the-road (think Sunday Mass, most of the time) Catholics, but that's an issue very few people seem to be talking about. Has anyone heard a word from a U.S. Catholic bishop about anything for about six months?

We are also talking about Trump and this one camp of old-guard, white evangelicals (many can accurately be defined as "fundamentalists") because other evangelicals are talking about them, from the other side of a bitter and painful divide in pulpits and many pews. At this stage, even Trump's evangelical advisory team is packed with people who have not endorsed him.

So, once again, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I, during this week's podcast, talked about the slow-motion train wreck that is Trump's campaign to get right with the God voters. Click right here to tune that in.

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Whew! Trump has someone to blame for saying 'Two Corinthians' (WHO might surprise you)

Whew! Trump has someone to blame for saying 'Two Corinthians' (WHO might surprise you)

It appears the Donald has someone to blame! (Anybody surprised?)

On Tuesday, we highlighted the Republican presidential frontrunner's non-snafu snafu concerning the Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians.

Now comes news via CNN that Donald Trump blames his gaffe (which he apparently acknowledges that it was) on Tony Perkins:

Washington (CNN) Donald Trump says it's Tony Perkins' fault he said "two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians" during a speech at Liberty University this week -- a mistake that raised questions about his biblical knowledge as he courts evangelical voters.
The Republican presidential front-runner said in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon Wednesday that Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, had given him notes on what to say when he visited the evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia.
"Tony Perkins wrote that out for me -- he actually wrote out 2, he wrote out the number 2 Corinthians," Trump said. "I took exactly what Tony said, and I said, 'Well Tony has to know better than anybody.' "
Trump's pronunciation of the Bible verse drew laughter from the Christian audience -- but he downplayed it, saying his Scottish mother would have said "two Corinthians," as well.

Um, did I miss something (and there's every chance I did)? Why is Perkins giving notes to Trump?

But concerning how Perkins wrote it out, would Trump have said he was glad to be in "Lynchburg, V-A-period" if Perkins had written "Lynchburg, Va.?" Or would he have understood the nomenclature? That's the point, right?

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Bible-thumping playboy: Associated Press explores faith, contradictions of Donald Trump

Bible-thumping playboy: Associated Press explores faith, contradictions of Donald Trump

Here in my home state of Oklahoma, Popemania couldn't trump The Donald.

Local newscasts provided nonstop coverage last week as Donald Trump came to speak at the Oklahoma State Fair.

I was amazed and amused.

(I immediately felt my age when I had to explain the O.J. reference to my teenagers.)

Of course, Trump's religion — or lack thereof — has inspired both humor and dismay as the Republican presidential contender has gained surprising support among some conservative Christians.

On the same day that Trump visited the Sooner State, The Associated Press published what impressed me as a smart, nuanced take on Trump and religion (particularly given the space constraints of a wire story).

The lede:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump recently showed up at a gathering of Iowa conservative Christian voters with a copy of the Bible in hand.
"See, I'm better than you thought," he said. Then came a black-and-white photograph from his confirmation to further prove his Christian cred.
"Nobody believes this," he said to laughs. "What went wrong?"

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