When Picking a President, Does Character Still Count to Evangelicals?

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Headlines across the nation herald presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's Tuesday meeting with over 1,000 major Evangelical leaders and the launch of his Evangelical Executive Advisory Board which includes James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and David Jeremiah.

It's understandable if you want to avoid more presidential race coverage, but we just can't ignore some of our Evangelical leaders' puzzling response to Trump.

According to The Washington Post, "the Donald" earned a standing ovation from his captivated conservative Christian audience. With such a warm and fuzzy response to a man known for having a very public affair, bringing the first strip club to Atlantic City's casinos, and prompting brazen misogyny, it's hard to ignore a compromising shift in attitudes among certain Evangelical leaders.

Before pro-Trump supporters unleash against me on Twitter, let me explain.

During the 2012 presidential election, I worked for Concerned Women for America. Penny Young Nance served as President and CEO. While working on a "She Votes" project, Nance told me "when picking a president, character counts."

I remember she explained the mantra was especially popular among the Religious Right during the Clinton administration, but Nance noted "character counts" is not an expectation solely reserved for Democrats. Character counts when picking a president. Period.

Too bad some members of the Religious Right don't follow Nance's good advice. For some of the Evangelicals now serving on Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, a president's character counted during the Clinton administration. Why should a Republican's character not count to the same critics of President Clinton, when choosing a president today?

On Wednesday, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, raised this point on The Briefing podcast. "Conservative Evangelicals were very quick to criticize Bill Clinton for his sexual infidelities and furthermore to make the open argument that Bill Clinton's fitness for office had been undermined in terms of the office of the presidency by his sexual misbehavior," Mohler explained. But today we see some of those same Evangelical leaders endorsing a presidential candidate who boasts of his sexual decadence.

Mohler explained further:

"What we saw back in the 1990s was an act of basic solidarity amongst Evangelicals and understanding of the centrality of character to leadership and of character, including character when it comes to even sexual morality as a matter that was essential to the credibility that was required of one who would hold a major position of leadership, in particular, one who would be elected President of the United States."

To drive his point home, Mohler said, "If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump in terms of his candidacy as President I would actually have to, I believe, go back and apologize to former president Bill Clinton but that would mean that back during the 1990s and during his scandals I was wrong. I don't believe I was. I don't believe evangelicals [who] stood united at that time were wrong. "

For some Evangelicals serving on Trump's Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, likely their decision is based on a "lesser of two evils" reasoning. A tempting decision when considering the character of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, as Mohler pointed out, Christians must be consistent in our call for morality and integrity. Anything less is hypocrisy.

Whatever the political results, as Christians we will answer to the Almighty for the choices that we make and the leadership we display. Let's not forget that when picking a president, Evangelicals' character counts as a public witness for Jesus Christ.

Originally posted at

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She earned her Masters of Arts in Government from Regent University and frequently contributes to conservative outlets. Follow her on twitter @ChelsenVicari.

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