It’s not just that evangelical leaders prefer other candidates. Many have been actively speaking out against Trump, occasionally almost apoplectic in their frustration over his continued popularity. Thomas Kidd, who participated in World’s survey, wrote last week that he “will not support Trump under any circumstances, and I would use what little influence I have to stop him from being elected president.” Kirsten Powers, a Fox News commentator who was until very recently an evangelical (she converted to Catholicism earlier this month), called Trump a scam artist and “a dangerous megalomaniac with a distorted sense of reality,” and called for evangelicals to “wake up.” Eric Teetsel, the director of the Manhattan Declaration, has been outspoken against Trump for months. “Now are we done?” he tweeted this summer after Trump said he had never asked God for forgiveness for his sins.
Most notable is the drumbeat of scorn from Russell Moore, the influential head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. With 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination. Moore, who generally takes a milder tone than his predecessors, has been sharply critical of the candidate in interviews with CNN, Politico, and NPR (“He’s someone who is an unrepentant serial adulterer”), among others. And, in September, he contributed a scathing op-ed in The New York Times that slammed Trump’s insults to Hispanics, his “Bronze Age warlord” attitude toward women, and his trivialization of communion as “drink my little wine ... have my little cracker.” The op-ed concluded:
Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.
One standard evangelical reply to Trump’s popularity is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy: Sure, self-described believers may tell pollsters they love the buffoon, but the much smaller group of real evangelicals knows better. “Evangelicals don’t love Trump,” the Federalist, a conservative site, declared in a typical argument. Kidd, an historian at Baylor University, observed that “actual evangelicals”—those who attend church regularly—are less likely to support Trump than other GOP voters are. “I don’t see a sharp divergence between leaders and those in the pews,” he told me in an email.