Last week, a few days after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, A.R. Bernard became the first member of President Trump’s evangelical advisory board to resign. “It became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration,” the pastor of New York City’s Christian Cultural Center wrote in a statement. He had been quietly backing away for months, he wrote. Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville seemed to be what it took to make Bernard’s decision official.
So far, he’s been the only one to step down since Trump took office. None of the other members have appeared to consider quitting over a “conflict in values,” despite the critics in and out of the church who have called on them to step down. While Trump’s advisers are largely standing unified behind him, the evangelical world is deeply split over the right way to approach politics. Are Christians better off trying to influence an imperfect president? Or should they disengage from a process that will never produce a leader who perfectly represents their worldview?
Tony Suarez, one of the advisory council members, said the pressure to quit has been intense. Over the last few days, he said, he’s gotten more than 1,000 messages via phone, text, and email calling him everything from “a hypocrite to a protector of neo-Nazism to supporting white supremacy.” Suarez, a pastor who serves as the executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, condemned the attacks in Charlottesville, calling “the racism and hate being spewed by the alt-right and white supremacists … an insult to Christianity and our country.” Many other members of the advisory council put out similar statements. “The message rebuking hate and white supremacy and the alt-right—I think the advisory board was very clear on where they stand,” he told me in an interview. “I don’t think there was any confusion in that message.”