Leading evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress speaks out for Donald Trump

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump acknowledges supporters at a town hall campaign event in Hickory, North Carolina. on March 14, 2016.Reuters

 A prominent Southern Baptist pastor has spoken out in support of Donald Trump.

Pastor Robert Jeffress said members of the evangelical elite who oppose the Republican front-runner are out of touch with average evangelical Christians. 

"There is an absolute disconnect between the evangelical elite leadership and the average person in the pew," said Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, on Public Radio International.

"The evangelical elite leadership just doesn't get it," he added.

Polls show that almost no evangelical leaders back Trump, compared to nearly four in ten evangelical voters.

A photo from 2011, showing the then-Republican US presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry sharing a hug with Pastor Robert Jeffress.Reuters

Jeffress spoke about the presidential race in 1980, and compared the devout born-again Christianity of Jimmy Carter to the pro-abortion Ronald Reagan.

"Evangelicals overwhelmingly went with Ronald Reagan, not because he was the most religious choice, but because he had the quality people felt was necessary at that time, and that was leadership."

Jeffress also defended Trump against the pope's recent criticisms of him.

"I think it's wrong to say that Donald Trump or anyone who advocates for national security, who wants to build a wall, is somehow not a Christian, as the pope intimated a few weeks ago. Look, building walls is not non-Christian. God told Nehemiah 'build a wall around Jerusalem.' The purpose of that wall was not to keep the Jews from going out but to keep the enemies from coming in."

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics, said: "I am less concerned about what happens in the political tumult of the country than I'm concerned about what evangelicalism is about, which is ultimately a commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I see that being obscured this year," according to Baptist News.

"When you have some leaders pronouncing Donald Trump to be a Christian – despite the fact that he openly boasts and brags about adulterous affairs and uses racially tinged and derogatory speech and a thousand other things, and says he has nothing for which to ask forgiveness from God – that to me is not a political issue. It is a gospel issue, and that has to do with who evangelicals actually are."

Jim Wallis of Sojourners agreed with Moore: "Not every supporter of Donald Trump is a racist, I'm sure, but the racists are all supporting Donald Trump.

"Russell and I would vote different ways on a number of things, but this is a gospel issue here. I'm doing a book tour around the country full of evangelicals and young people who regard Donald Trump as contrary to the gospel."