Perhaps power is the flame wooing some "evangelical" moths. They can't help themselves - even when the flame is a bona fide proto-fascist liar, wife dumper, misogynist, strip-club owner, narcissistic megalomaniac, and Muslim and Mexican hater.
Such is my takeaway after sifting through the news of Donald Trump's newly-appointed Evangelical Advisory Board. The Donald gushed: "I have such tremendous respect and admiration for this group and I look forward to continuing to talk about the issues important to Evangelicals, and all Americans, and the common sense solutions I will implement when I am President."
Several on the board stressed that their membership should not be seen as an endorsement, but surely they could have anticipated lines like this Religion News Report lead: "Evangelical leaders have made their concerns about Donald Trump loud and clear. That is, until yesterday when prominent holdouts announced that they were joining Trump's Evangelical Executive Advisory Board."
A Closer Look
First, notice who is not named. All of evangelicalism's leading intellects are distinctly absent. The presidents of Fuller, Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Dallas, and Asbury theological seminaries aren't there, nor are the current presidents or executive directors of any evangelical denomination. Pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren are not there. Jack Hayford is not there. No Vineyard pastor is there. There is no representative from the governing board of the National Association of Evangelicals.
To repeat: The alliance representing some 40 evangelical denominations and a slew of churches and individual members is not at the table.
So who is named? Some of the more famous include:
Richard Land: Southern Evangelical Seminary's current president and the former head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He wrote this in Charisma News on March 3: "... it must be said, before it is too late, that whatever the problems may be, Donald Trump is not the answer. I fear that the millions of Americans who are putting their trust in Mr. Trump will be bitterly disillusioned if he were to obtain the nation's highest office." Land lost a lot of his evangelical mojo in 2012, when he said the Obama administration used the Trayvon Martin case to "gin up the black vote." An investigation later found he often lifted his commentaries from others without attribution, hedging the ethics title in his commission. He stepped down.
Why the shift, Dr. Land? How has Trump changed?
James Dobson: The founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, through which he baptized right wing politics in the name of Christ. Dobson resigned as Focus's president and CEO in 2003 and stepped away from his role as chairman of the board in 2009, citing differences with his successor, Jim Daly (Daly veils his political preferences). Dobson once criticized both Rubio and Trump: After they "announced they would accept the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, we knew we could not support them."
Dobson has always found the flame alluring.
Michele Bachmann: The former congresswoman and presidential candidate may be a sincere evangelical, but she is not an evangelical leader. There's a difference.
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland: Kenneth is one of the architects of the "Health and Wealth Gospel," which many evangelical denominations - including Pentecostals - have labeled a heresy. They hosted a conference in January at which Rafael Cruz, father of the presidential candidate, preached. Copeland introduced the elder Cruz with these words: "I believe, with all my heart, that his son is called and anointed to be the next president of the United States."
Has God changed his mind?
Tony Suarez: The executive vice president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference said this in November: "As Donald Trump once again reveals his true character we are one day closer to this embarrassing reality showing coming to an end. The only thing more embarrassing than this campaign is watching preachers who support Trump and even manipulate scripture to invent false prophecies regarding Trump. He's not 'the Trumpet.'"
Suarez has explained his board membership: "I feel that I can best serve the Body of Christ and the Latino community by coming to a table of reason, rather than exchanging rhetoric for rhetoric. For months, we've been asking Mr. Trump to not just build a wall, but to build a bridge between his campaign and the Latino community. The formation of the board and his invitation for me to be a part of it gives me hope...Should Hillary Clinton ask me to serve on an advisory board, I will gladly say 'yes.' So far, she hasn't, but Mr. Trump has and he deserves credit for it."
I don't question his sincerity, but I would ask: Did you not anticipate how this would be seen? Or did the flame feel so warm and comfortable?
Paula White: Another Health and Wealth advocate and the senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida. She co-founded Without Walls International, a Tampa megachurch that grew to 25,000, with her former husband, Randy. The couple separated in 2007. She admitted to an "inappropriate" relationship with faith healer Benny Hinn after her divorce - although she claimed they did not have an affair.
Ralph Reed: Him again.
Enough. See the full list below. Many have been Religious Right advocates for years, which prompted this June 21st tweet from Russell Moore, Land's replacement at the Southern Baptist Religious Liberty Commission: "If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know."
Flames Can Feel Good - at first
I understand the lure of the flame. I've touched it in my political involvement. Dropping in on senators and congressmen and rubbing shoulders with BCVIPSINW (Big Christian VIPS in Washington) gets heady very quickly. But then you peer into the lives of some BCVIPSINW and you find towering egos and spent marriages. The late David Kuo wrote all about it in his book, Tempting Faith. He talked about his own moral failures - including his divorce and fathering an out-of-wedlock child - while decrying Clinton's immorality. Later, in the Bush years, he found that Republicans don't take evangelicals that seriously.
Many evangelicals got burned in the unholy Religious Right. Fortunately, the vast majority refuses to be moths this time.
The full list:
Michele Bachmann - Former Congresswoman
R. Bernard - Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
Mark Burns - Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
Tim Clinton -President, American Association of Christian Counselors
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland - Founders, Kenneth Copeland Ministries
James Dobson - Author, Psychologist and Host, My Family Talk
Jerry Falwell, Jr. - President, Liberty University
Ronnie Floyd - Senior Pastor, Cross Church
Jentezen Franklin - Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
Jack Graham - Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
Harry Jackson - Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
Robert Jeffress - Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
David Jeremiah - Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
Richard Land - President, Southern Evangelical Seminary
James MacDonald - Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel
Johnnie Moore - Author, President of The KAIROS Company
Robert Morris - Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
Tom Mullins - Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship
Ralph Reed -Founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition
James Robison- Founder, Life OUTREACH International
Tony Suarez - Executive VicePresident, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Jay Strack - President, Student Leadership University
Paula White - Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
Tom Winters - Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.