By Bob Allen
A Fox News personality who once worked for Baptist Press is taking exception to criticism of presidential candidate Donald Trump by evangelical leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for public policy concerns.
Todd Starnes, the host of a Fox News show heard on radio stations around the country, referenced critical tweets by SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty President Russell Moore during the GOP candidate’s Jan. 18 speech at Liberty University.
“This Republican primary is beginning to look like a Baptist church business meeting,” Starnes, a former newspaper reporter who worked as assistant editor at Baptist Press between 2000 and 2003, said in a Jan. 21 podcast.
Starnes singled out Moore as one evangelical leader who “really took issue” with Trump’s remarks and his introduction by Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr.
“There are several evangelical leaders that are just really upset that apparently Donald Trump was not put on some sort of theological trial in front of the Liberty University student body,” Starnes said later in an interview on AFA radio — “as if he had to confess all of his sins and transgressions before he could legitimately speak to these young people.”
“I really think that was sort of sad that it’s come to this in evangelical Christian circles,” Starnes said, “the idea that somehow the Christian witness was damaged because Donald Trump was invited to speak there and said what he said and what Jerry Falwell said what he said.”
Starnes also disapproved of recent controversy over how much money candidate Ted Cruz gives to his local church.
“It’s ugly, and it’s downright shameful,” the pundit chastised evangelical critics. “I mean is this what it looks like when Christians get involved in politics? All the backstabbing, the name calling, raising doubts about a person’s faith? Questioning their motives? That’s what the Democrats do.”
Discussing Trump’s apparent gaffe by calling a Bible book “Two Corinthians” instead of the more common “Second Corinthians,” Starnes said Trump read more Scripture in his Liberty speech than he heard in some liberal mainline churches he has visited.
“A good number of the folks, especially among the evangelical crowd, that are giving Donald Trump such a hard time and are disparaging the good name of Liberty University and Jerry Falwell Jr. — a lot of those folks are actively campaigning for or supporting Marco Rubio,” Starnes said. “Please don’t claim the high ground while you’re out there doing what you’re accusing others of doing.”
Starnes’ Jan. 21 podcast included an interview with Mike Huckabee, who after a promising run for the GOP nomination in 2008 is getting less traction this time around. Starnes asked Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister and Fox News personality, if it is a sin for evangelical Christians to support Trump.
“Of course not,” Huckabee sad. “You’ve mentioned Russell Moore. He had a big meeting with about 10,000 Southern Baptists, and two people he brought to speak were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. They’re great guys and they’re friends of mine and I like them both, but they’re Roman Catholic.”
“I’m thinking, Russell, if you really wanted to bring somebody to talk to Baptists you might bring somebody that has been one — educated in Baptist colleges, Baptist seminaries, pastored Baptist churches, led a Baptist convention, raised hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars for Southern Baptist missions,” Huckabee said. “That would have been smart.”
“I’m not really that worried that Russell’s evaluation of the candidates is going to be taken as significant,” Huckabee added.