Evangelical Christians keep falling into the same trap. On Tuesday, Politico released an interview with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC). In that interview, Perkins conceded that it might be likely President Donald Trump slept with a porn star, but he suggested Trump’s policies granted him a “mulligan” or a “do-over.”
“We kind of gave him—’All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,'” Perkins told Politico‘s Zack Stanton.
According to Stanton, the FRC president admitted to knowing about “Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who claimed, in a 2011 interview, that in 2006 she had sex with Trump four months after his wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron. He knows of reports that she was paid off to keep the affair quiet in the waning weeks of the 2016 election.”
The scandal is not good for Trump, but it has proven a terrible trap for evangelical Christian leaders. On Saturday, the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham, urged evangelicals to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on the Stormy Daniels affair.
Unfortunately for Graham, the evidence points to the affair, rather than the denials issued by Trump and Daniels. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 one month before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement. In a 2011 interview with In Touch magazine, however, Daniels recalled her relationship with the future president, complete with at least one sex act. In Touch released a full transcript of that interview on Friday.
Perkins’ remarks were even worse than Graham’s. At least Graham just denied the affair, in the face of evidence for it. Graham could claim he had not seen all the evidence and that he wanted to believe Trump’s word.
Perkins, however, did not even try to deny that the affair happened. Instead, he claimed that Trump’s support for conservative policies in line with evangelical Christianity compensated for his immoral behavior.
“From a policy standpoint, he has delivered more than any other president in my lifetime,” Perkins told Stanton. “I think the president is providing the leadership we need at this time, in our country and in our culture.”
Tellingly, the FRC president refused to call Trump a “moral leader,” removing the word “moral” when Stanton suggested it.
Perkins, a father of five children, recalled telling his children that the president’s tweets are often “hurtful,” but he explains them in terms of Trump’s “need … he wants to be accepted.”
“We see right and wrong. We see good and evil, but also among evangelicals, there’s an understanding that we are all fallen, and the idea of forgiveness is very prominent,” Perkins said. “And so, we understand that, yes, there is justice, but there is mercy.”
Mercy is indeed a central part of Christianity, but many see hypocrisy in Perkins’ willingness to grant Trump a “mulligan” when it comes to cheating on his wife with a porn star.
“There is nothing in Trump’s past that can emerge that would make Perkins abandon him, and Perkins says as much,” tweeted Alex Griswold, a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon.
But the real takeaway is that Ben Shapiro is right: there is nothing in Trump's past that can emerge that would make Perkins abandon him, and Perkins says as much.
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) January 23, 2018
Gina Dalfonzo, an evangelical author and editor of BreakPoint.org, responded to Perkins’ comments with disgust. “Oh my Lord . . . a MULLIGAN!? This is exactly what Clinton fans were saying in the ’90s. EXACTLY. And conservative Christians slammed them for it. I’m just disgusted,” Dalfonzo tweeted.
Oh my Lord . . . a MULLIGAN!? This is exactly what Clinton fans were saying in the '90s. EXACTLY. And conservative Christians slammed them for it. I'm just disgusted.
— Gina Dalfonzo (@ginadalfonzo) January 23, 2018
Why does Perkins grant Trump a pass? The president addressed the March for Life, he issued a religious freedom executive order, and he recently set up a Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Trump’s push on religious freedom helped to counter the Left’s assault on conscience rights that Perkins and his organization have long decried. The Left has attempted to use anti-discrimination laws and health care arguments to force conservative Christians to provide services that violate their consciences.
Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, gladly sold other baked goods to LGBT people, but Colorado fined him for discrimination. The Supreme Court is currently debating his case.
On the issue of abortion, multiple states — California and Hawaii — have passed bills requiring pregnancy resource centers (many of which are pro-life) to post placards advertising abortion services. The Supreme Court has also taken up this case.
Under the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) involved contraception mandates that forced employers like Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for abortifacient drugs. Another Obamacare provision forced employers to cover transgender surgery, a practice many consider a harmful rejection of God-given sexuality.
The Obama years proved particularly painful to Perkins’ organization. In 2012, a man used the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “hate map” to target FRC. He tried to kill everyone in the building, but a brave security guard thwarted his plans. The SPLC often brands conservative Christian organizations “hate groups” for their stances on traditional marriage.
In defending Trump, Perkins said evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
When Stanton asked about Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek,” Perkins replied, “You know, you only have two cheeks. Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
Here especially, Perkins fell into a hole. Christians can turn the other cheek in their own case while still defending the rights of others. In the very same sermon about “turning the other cheek,” Jesus said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” The answer isn’t “you only have two cheeks,” but rather, “Jesus also told us to care for the oppressed.”
Religious freedom is a central American value — in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Americans should stand up for each person’s right to live by the dictates of their conscience, and that includes evangelical Christians.
Trump’s movement in this regard is admirable, and Perkins should indeed continue to praise him for it.
Even so, the president’s policies do not give him carte blanche in his previous personal life. As evangelicals rightly condemned former President Bill Clinton for his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, so they should condemn Trump’s extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels.
What Trump did was wrong, and no amount of policy successes can make up for it. The attempt to cover up the scandal only makes the situation worse.
Many on the Right sense the need to defend Trump in all situations. After all, many liberal media outlets are extremely unfair to the president, and he has achieved many good things for conservatives. Even so, defending Trump in everything is a trap, and hypocrisy remains hypocrisy even in the face of a liberal media.
Perkins does not attempt to defend Trump in everything, and he insisted that the “mulligan” applies to the president’s previous actions, not his conduct in office. Even so, the FRC president’s rush to defend Trump and minimize previous sinful behavior is abhorrent and ill-becoming of the leader of such an important social conservative nonprofit.
The Politico story seemed to dismiss Perkins’ legitimate complaints about Obama and the Left. Nowhere did it reference the terrorist attack on the FRC, and nowhere did it admit that religious freedom is indeed under assault. Instead, Perkins’ hypocrisy on Trump dominated the narrative.
If evangelicals continue to fall into this trap, their voices on legitimate issues will get drowned out by what the media sees as a juicier story — evangelical hypocrisy.