Despite the widespread perception that evangelicals support Donald Trump at all costs, some 83 per cent of evangelical leaders do not believe evangelicals in America should be identified with the person and policies of the current president, according to an Evangelical Leaders Survey.
The poll, conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in January, showed that most of the leaders do not think evangelicals should be identified with any president.
'Interesting commentary flowed in with the responses to this survey question,' said Leith Anderson, the president of NAE. 'There is angst over media coverage and popular thought that identifies evangelicals with this or any president. Evangelicals are so many and so diverse that leaders are wary when media [give] the impression that someone is speaking for all evangelicals.'
Although comments were not required in the survey, 90 per cent of the NAE leaders added statements to their yes or no answer for the question, 'Should evangelicals in America be identified with the person and policies of President Trump?'
Examples of responses included that of Alan Robinson, the national director of Brethren in Christ US, who said: 'Evangelicals should be identified with the person and priorities of Jesus and his kingdom. Sadly, however, it seems like the majority of our current society identifies evangelicals with political people and parties rather than with Jesus and his teachings. Even sadder is that many evangelicals have provided society with reasons for this misidentification.'
Don Morris, the national director of the US Conference of Mennonite Brethren, said: 'True evangelicalism is not a political platform. It is a lifestyle of following Jesus and his mandate to "go and make disciples". That evangelicals are linked with the political right is not a good thing at all. I say this even though I am a solid conservative.'
Several of the leaders stressed the importance of being non-partisan or bi-partisan, and supporting policies that are in line with biblical values while critiquing policies that diverge from gospel teaching.
Gabriel Salguero, the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said: 'Evangelicals should not be solely identified with any politician or party. We should meet and work in a bipartisan fashion where our gospel values are represented through policy.'
And Rich Nathan, a senior pastor of Vineyard Columbus, warned: 'I believe that the evangelical alliance with the current administration will result in the turning away of the Millennial generation and people of colour from considering the Christian faith.'
Some praised Trump's policies, however.
'There are many aspects of the current administration's policies that are good for our country, said George Wood, the chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. 'As believers we are enjoined to pray for political leaders, and we should be doing that for the president no matter who he or she is.'
Anderson said: 'Leaders may be on different sides of President Trump. But the large majority insisted that evangelicals should not be identified with any president or party.'
Some 80 per cent of white evangelicals supported Trump at the 2016 presidential election, compared with 16 per cent for Hillary Clinton.
More recently, a January poll for The Washington Post and ABC News found that eight per cent of white evangelical Protestants approve of Trump's job performance.
The support has drawn sharp criticism from some interesting quarters. Last month, a senior Fox News presenter, Juan Williams, blasted American evangelicals for backing Trump despite speculation about the president's personal life including the revelation that the Trump's personal lawyer made a six-figure payment to a pornography actress.
In an article titled 'Evangelicals sell their souls for Trump' Williams, a contributor to the right-wing news channel since 1997, said of the porn star revelations: 'When it comes to the Stormy Daniels story, it is hard for me to understand the silence from evangelical Christians.' The presenter said that evangelicals 'don't care about the word of God when it comes to Trump' and pointed out that if the same story had come out about Barack Obama evangelicals would have condemned the former president as a non-Christian.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals, which includes the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad range of evangelical organisations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.