Does Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board Have Anything Better to Say?

Commentary
By Jennifer Butler 9-01-2017

As former Chair of President Obama’s White House Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I am deeply disappointed by the failure of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board to provide the unifying public leadership that their position requires. By not directly challenging the president’s de facto endorsement of white supremacy in Charlottesville or the “Nashville Statement” statement that attacks LGBT people, they abet the bigotry, division, and discrimination that is scarring our nation. 

Our nation deserves better than undiscerning cheerleaders to a presidency in moral crisis.

And this administration desperately needs a faith-based advisory board committed to the values of compassion, justice, and inclusion. President Trump’s failure to quickly condemn white supremacist marchers for three deaths and multiple beatings in Charlottesville was a moment that required a round of sharp rebukes or resignations. But only one member, A.R. Bernard, a black pastor from Brooklyn, showed moral leadership and stepped down from the existing council, and the president’s racism has only grown more overt since then. When President Trump pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has an extensive and well-known record of racially profiling and brutalizing Latinos, every one of the pastors on Trump's council remained loyal.

This failure of leadership enables bigotry and damages the church’s already-eroding moral credibility. Members of Trump’s council even told evangelical author and commentator Jonathan Merritt that they could not think of a comment or behavior that would trigger their resignation. It appears that any behavior, including serial adultery or sexual assault, is excusable to these leaders when committed by the president.

In stark contrast to this tolerance, several members of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board are among the 153 signatories of the Nashville Statement that aggressively demeans and disparages members of the LGBTQ community and those who support them. They include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; James MacDonald, founder and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel; and James Robison, founder and president of LIFE Outreach International. These men are not incapable of issuing harsh judgment and condemnation — they simply prefer to direct it toward people the evangelical church has already mercilessly marginalized.

The White House council I chaired was established to bring an independent, expert voice to sharpen the administration’s approach to addressing poverty and inequality. Unlike Trump’s religious advisors, we were religiously and ideologically diverse — many served organizations whose memberships did not necessarily share the views of the president’s own party. The guiding force of our work was not politics, but our moral beliefs and faith-driven passion for serving our marginalized fellow children of God. We respected democratic governance, and, unlike Trump's informal faith advisory council, served under Federal Advisory Committee Act regulations that made our recommendations transparent, open to public comment, and objective.

A Christian cannot serve two masters. Member of the president’s Evangelical Advisory Board must choose whom they will serve. One member has resigned. For the good of the country and the church, I hope others will too.

The Rev. Jennifer Butler is CEO of Faith in Public Life.

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