Should evangelicals stand by Trump in his darkest hour?

While world leaders, business leaders, friends, allies and Republicans have deserted the US President over his handling of the Charlottesville tragedy, it is American evangelicals who are standing firm.

Only one of the nominal evangelical advisory committee, formed during Donald Trump's election campaigned, has stepped back – New York City megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard said he had distanced himself for several months as 'it became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration'.

Others such as Jerry Falwell Jnr, president of Liberty University, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee openly backed Trump while condemning the white nationalists' 'evil, sinful, disgusting behaviour'.

ReutersDonald Trump has publicly praised Jerry Falwell Jnr, one of his most loyal supporters.

After criticism for not speaking against the neo-Nazi infused march in Virginia, an hour's drive from Liberty University, Falwell tweeted: ''Finally a leader in the White House. Jobs returning, North Korea backing down, bold truthful statement about Charlottesville tragedy. So proud of Donald Trump.'

His loyalty even earned him a grateful tweet from the president.

Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas also backed Trump's stance.

'Racism comes in all shapes, all sizes, and yes, all colours,' Jeffress told CBN on Tuesday. 'If we're going to denounce some racism, we ought to denounce all racism.'

He went on: 'The media, the liberals have painted a false narrative that the President is a racist, and anytime he tries to break out of that box, liberals aren't going to allow him to do it.'

Franklin Graham, another stalwart Trump supporter, also rushed to Trump's side, saying 'shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on President Trump for what happened in Charlottesville'.

Compared to the widespread condemnation of Trump, this does significant long-term damage to evangelicals' public perception. While others escape the guilt of association by distancing themselves, Falwell and his contemporaries are tarred with the same brush of racism and nationalism that taints the Republican president.

But standing by him is precisely what they should be doing, they claim.

In an article for the Christian Post today, Michael Brown, an evangelical author, argues now is the very time Christians should be standing my Trump – when he needs them most. The implication is just because they don't criticise Trump publically doesn't mean they won't privately.

'They are doing what faith leaders are supposed to do: praying for the President and doing their best to speak into his life, calling him to do what is right in God's sight and is best for the nation.'

He goes on: 'Isn't it good to know that these solid, godly leaders are still doing their best to speak truth to the president? Wouldn't you want people like that having access to him? Why would they abandon him now?'

He adds: 'We Christians are so quick to divorce one another the moment conflict arises. Why don't we get in the trenches and say, "I don't like what you said and how you said it, but I'm here to help. How can we fix this and move forward?" Why must we immediately abandon one another the moment conflict arises?'

Brown, along with Trump's other evangelical backers, goes on to say that while the president 'expressed himself in an ambiguous and confusing manner' he was essentially right because 'both sides' were guilty of violence.

In reference to Trump's claim there were some 'very fine' people among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, Brown says he was referring to 'people who simply objected to the removal of Gen. Lee's statue in distinction from the White Supremacist groups'.

They could have a point. There was violence on both sides. And there may have been some 'fine people' genuinely objecting to the removal of a statue in among the racists and antisemites.

But the question that remains for the evangelical leaders who have backed Trump is whether their closeness to him does more harm than good in the long run.

As Matthew Dowd, the Chief Political Analyst for ABC News, tweeted: 'Not a single member of Trump's Evangelical Council has resigned. We have learned corporate America has a greater moral compass. So so sad.'

If this is the lasting impression outsiders have from Trump's spell in the White House, the evangelicals' supposed ultimate aim of spreading the gospel will have been severely damaged.

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