Some evangelicals may be suspicious of his “flip-flops” on abortion, and the most hardline are less willing to support any exceptions in their opposition to abortion.
On LGBT issues, Falwell was also rigid—some would say downright offensive—in his opposition to homosexuality and gay marriage. They say it’s bad form to speak ill of the dead, but in this case, Falwell’s comments speak for themselves. The preacher said that AIDS was God’s punishment both for LGBT people and “for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” He told PBS that homosexuality was a choice, and he supported ex-gay conversion reparative therapy, which has been widely discredited and shown to cause psychological distress in participants.
Falwell’s most egregious comment on sexuality occurred after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, when he suggested that “the gays and the lesbians” were partly to be blame because they incited God’s wrath. Lumping them in with feminists, pagans, and abortionists, he railed, “I point the finger in their face and say, ‘you helped this happen.’” He later apologized.
On LGBT issues, Human Rights Campaign says Trump has a “mixed record.” He’s opposed marriage equality, though he has supported domestic-partnership benefits. He has favored amending the Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT persons from discrimination, which many conservatives oppose. After reviewing his record on these matters, MSNBC suggested Trump may be “2016’s most LGBT-friendly Republican.” Not exactly words of comfort for evangelical Christians, many of whom have been inflexible on LGBT issues, and not within a Manhattan avenue block of Falwell’s stringency.
The disconnect between Donald Trump and American evangelicals is not only political in nature, but also moral. Whatever the other criticisms of Jerry Falwell Senior, no one accuses him of not practicing what he preached. The televangelist remained married to his first wife, Macil, for half a century, and was never even accused of marital misconduct, unlike many of his colleagues. Despite his harsh rhetoric, he never used profanity in public. In a tradition like evangelicalism, the public piety of political and religious leaders matters.
Trump, on the other hand, is thrice married and has often used profane language in speeches and interviews. He has made a portion of his wealth in the casino industry, and as Gary Scott Smith points out at Newsweek, “has displayed little concern for the poor, orphans, or refugees—groups evangelicals profess to want to help.”
If evangelicals held Trump to the same standard they have applied to leaders in the past, he would hardly pass muster. Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist denomination’s political arm, recently described Trump as “unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women” and who has grown rich through “an industry that preys on the poor and incentivizes immoral and often criminal behavior.”