Four years ago, influential Southern Baptist leader Rev. Albert Mohler was one of evangelical Christianity’s strongest opponents of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Now Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reveals that he’ll vote for Trump this November because of his conservative leadership record. Mohler adds that he intends to vote Republican for the rest of his life, as long as the GOP platform continues to oppose abortion and support religious liberty.
Mohler shared this news Monday during an “Ask Anything” segment of a T4G (Together for the Gospel) livestream. He also admits “a bit of regret” for giving his 2016 vote “minimal importance” by casting it for a third-party candidate.
How Al Mohler’s Stance Has Changed
During the 2016 campaign, Mohler argued that evangelical Christians would lose credibility if they supported Trump. In a Washington Post opinion piece about the quandary faced by voters of faith, Mohler labeled then-candidate Trump “the Great Evangelical Embarrassment.” He asserted that leaders must meet a “higher standard” and that “continued public arguments that offer cover for Donald Trump are…excruciating.”
Character was key for Mohler in 2016. That August, he was quoted in The Atlantic, saying, “If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.” And when the notorious Access Hollywood tape was released two months later, Mohler posed this question to evangelicals: “Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency?”
Now, however, Mohler says he’s basing his turnaround on Trump’s track record and on the trajectory of America’s two main political parties. During this week’s livestream, Mohler indicated that as Trump started keeping his promises to evangelicals, his opinion of the president began changing. Specifically, Mohler points to the 2017 Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch and the Republican Party’s stances on abortion and religious freedoms.
“I don’t have a different moral estimation of Donald Trump,” Mohler clarifies. “He continually leaves me very frustrated in how he presents himself and how he speaks.” But Mohler praises Trump’s consistency and his appointments of federal judges and other high-level officials. Riley Barnes, Mohler’s son-in-law, is currently a senior adviser at the State Department.
Mohler’s Supporting Trump Disappoints Some Evangelicals
Reaction to Mohler’s new stance was swift, with several key evangelical leaders expressing dismay.
In a series of tweets, Missouri Pastor Mike Leake writes that he’s “incredibly disappointed” by Mohler’s endorsement of Trump. Though Leake says he can “understand a changed perspective,” he wants to know “what changed since 2016” regarding “presidential character.” If the appointment of conservative judges is a major factor, says Leake, “then it shows [that Mohler’s] argument in 2016 wasn’t about character.” Leake concludes by saying he hopes Mohler “will speak to power when it goes off the rails—something [Robert] Jeffress and [Jerry] Falwell and others have failed to do.”
Karen Swallow Prior, an outgoing Liberty University professor who’s heading to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweets: “In humility, hope, and faith, I will vote in November for a president who has better character, promotes more consistently life-affirming policies, and isn’t as handsy (or worse) with women than either of the two major party candidates. This is not throwing my vote away. This is refusing to accept a bar so low.”
Other church leaders are raising concerns about racism. Southern Baptist Pastor Dwight McKissic, who has decried his denomination’s track record on racial issues, says he’ll no longer direct black students toward Mohler’s seminary. Of Mohler’s 2020 presidential endorsement, McKissic tells the Washington Post, “It shows you’re tone deaf or you don’t care about the sensitivities of the majority of African Americans who find Donald Trump a repulsive personality and politician.”
Other Religious Leaders Applaud Mohler
Theology professor Wayne Grudem initially supported Trump’s 2016 candidacy but withdrew his endorsement right before the election, when the lewd audiotape surfaced. Now Grudem, citing issues such as Trump’s support for Israel, says, “It’s hard for me to think of someone who’s done that much good for the country in that short amount of time.” Though Grudem admits Trump’s speech isn’t “the most elegant or refined,” he says the president’s “decisions are incredibly good for the country.”
Two Southern Baptist pastors in Texas who say they voted for third-party candidates in 2016 now indicate they’ll likely join Mohler in supporting Trump this November. On Twitter, Bart Barber lists several reasons behind his thinking, including Democratic hostility toward Christians. Barber notes, however, that he still has “almost every reservation” he had about Trump back in 2016. Pastor Tom Buck echoes that sentiment, tweeting that 2020 “calls for a new strategy” and saying he prays for evangelical unity on this matter.