Character still matters in presidents and presidential candidates, Russell Moore said on NBC’s Meet the Press May 14.
And the way evangelicals and other Republicans have glossed over the guilty verdict against Donald Trump in the abuse and defamation case won by E. Jean Carroll sends the wrong message to young people in churches today, the editor in chief of Christianity Today added.
Host Chuck Todd asked Moore, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to respond to news that former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence “was kind of dismissive of the defamation verdict,” saying, “Well, I, think this is something that the media cares more about.”
Moore replied: “I’m not sure what’s going on in Vice President Pence’s mind at this point. I know it was a shocking moment for me even after everything we’ve seen. And what’s primarily shocking is the fact that here we are in a week where a former president of the United States is found liable for sexual abuse and sexual assault and defamation of a woman who survived such abuse and assault, and the country just yawns for the most part. That tells me something has really, really badly gone awry in this country.
That tells me something has really, really badly gone awry in this country.”
“And you add to it the demeanor and the content of President Trump’s deposition to simply shrug off and defend the Access Hollywood comments. In 2015, I said … Donald Trump at the time had the attitude toward women of a Bronze Age warlord. In that deposition, he said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact,’ (and he) predated it back to millions of years ago, and said, ‘Unfortunately or fortunately, that’s the way that it is.’
“Well, think about the teenage girl in a church somewhere who’s being abused by her youth pastor wondering whether to come forward. And she hears not only that, but when the victim is ridiculed by a presidential candidate in front of a crowd, the response is laughter. That has devastating implications.”
Pence was not alone in making light of the unanimous jury verdict against Trump. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, “The whole case is a joke.” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R.-Ala., said the trial’s outcome “makes me want to vote for him twice.”
No Republican leaders have denounced Trump over the jury verdict.
Further, Trump’s abusive behavior toward women is not a thing of the past, according to former White House staff members.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, former White House director of strategic communications and assistant to the president, told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week: “I have countless pieces of what I considered impropriety in the White House that I brought to the chief of staff because I thought the way he engaged with women was dangerous.”
She said former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham and others also lodged complaints about Trump’s White House behavior.
Grisham also appeared on CNN last week and told anchor Erin Burnett: “There was a specific staffer … (Trump) would request for her to be on constant trips when it wasn’t her turn. … He one time had one of my other deputies bring her back so that they could ‘look at her ass,’ is what he said to him.”
“He one time had one of my other deputies bring her back so that they could ‘look at her ass,’ is what he said to him.”
Grisham said she “tried everything I could to ensure she was never alone with him. I did take it to a couple different chiefs of staff including Mark Meadows. … At the end of the day what could they do other than go in there and say, ‘This isn’t good, sir,’ and you know Donald Trump will do what Donald Trump wants to do. … When you’re dealing with the president of the United States, again, there’s no HR group or HR representative to go to, to talk to about these kinds of things.”
In sum, Grisham described Trump’s behavior toward some women as “really bad.”
Yet Republican leaders and evangelical leaders appear unfazed by all this, Moore lamented, which is a reversal of their attitudes during the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Moore to respond to a quote from Sen. Lindsay Graham, R.-S.C., in 1998: “Somebody that plays the games to the bitter end, tries to have it both ways, dances on the head of a pin, in my opinion, has forfeited their right to lead this country.”
“Well, it was right in 1998, and it’s right now,” Moore replied. “And that’s part of what’s so confusing to many of us who were taught in the 1990s that character matters and are now told by often the very same people that it doesn’t. Evangelical Christianity emphasizes that the internal affects the external and the fact that a person’s character in private has everything to do with his or her character in public.”
“Many of us who were taught in the 1990s that character matters and are now told by often the very same people that it doesn’t.”
Todd then asked Moore whether the evangelical community is still divided over Trump or unified behind him.
While the “politically activated, politically energized base” hasn’t budged in its support of Trump, other evangelicals have, Moore said. “That’s one of the reasons why we see churches divided. We see families divided. I mean, one of the most dismaying aspects of the Trump years is the fact that Donald Trump is at the center of everything. Almost every congregation I know is either divided or tense about these sorts of political controversies coming out of the Trump years. Almost every family I know has people who don’t speak to each other anymore about this personality and this figure.
“And I think there are a lot of people, including conservative evangelicals like me, who are looking at this and saying, ‘Are we really going to do this again? Haven’t we seen this already? Do we really want to repeat it?’ And I suppose that will be the question for the rest of the year.”
“If you have an entire generation who only grow up seeing this, what’s going to happen?”
Instead of blindly following a leader like Trump, “someone needs to step forward and talk about the importance of character and talk about the importance of having someone who can be trusted to have the nuclear codes,” Moore continued. “I mean it: We really need someone to step forward and say, ‘Let’s remember what’s at stake here.’ We’re not just choosing what kind of entertainment we’re going to have for the next six years. We’re talking about the direction of the country and we’re talking about what our children are seeing and potentially will replicate.
“If you have an entire generation who only grow up seeing this, what’s going to happen? We need somebody who will make that case and say it. And right now, among candidates, among elected officials, sometimes even among church officials, there’s fear. No one wants to speak to this because they’re afraid of what will happen to them. The stakes are too high.”
Todd ended the segment by asking Moore if there’s any circumstance in which he personally would support Trump for president.
“Jesus said, ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no,’” Moore replied. “I’ll let my never be never.”
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