By now, those who keep up on religion and politics are aware that president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and nominee to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Al Mohler, has endorsed Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Mohler did not endorse Trump in 2016. In fact, he criticized Trump and cast his opposition as being consistent with his criticism of Bill Clinton on moral grounds. After citing an article decrying Clinton’s morals, Mohler said in 2016:
I cite that article I wrote during the Clinton crisis to document arguments the importance of sexual morality and character to leadership. I read those words because I want to make certain I am consistent over time and not bending my argument to the political urgency of the moment. 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. I would have to admit that my commentary on his scandals was wrong. I don’t believe I was. I don’t believe evangelicals who stood united that time were wrong.
Several commentators have pointed out Mohler’s flip flop in articles that are well worth reading: Jonathan Merritt, John Fea, David French. My interest in this post is demonstrating just how far from his former position he has moved. During the Clinton years, Mohler was one of several evangelical leaders who took a very persistent stance that Bill Clinton’s character disqualified him from office. Here are some illustrations.
Lying Destroyed Credibility in 1998
In September 1998, Mohler was quoted as calling for Clinton’s resignation over the Lewinsky affair.
Mr. Mohler, the Southern Baptist theologian, has called for Clinton’s resignation, as have other leaders of Clinton’s own denomination.
“An apology requires moral credibility, and the president has destroyed that moral credibility,” he says. “Basically, he’s saying to the American people, ‘I lied to you, I lied repeatedly, I lied even most recently, but I am not lying now.’ That just does not wash.” (1)
At last count, Donald Trump has made 18,000 false or misleading statements during his term. Just recently, for instance, he said “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. We—they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.” That wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. Mohler was so incensed about Clinton’s lies in 1998. Now, after constant lies from Trump, Mohler endorses him. To quote Mohler, “that just does not wash.”
According to the Baptist Press, Mohler signed a statement in November 1998 which
called on Clinton to resign because restoring trust to the presidency “can only be accomplished by your relinquishing your office.”
Apparently, we no longer need to trust the president.
Character Mattered in 1999
On February 18, 1999, the Baptist Press reported that Mohler made his third appearance on “Larry King Live” to discuss, among other things, Clinton’s character. The article quoted Mohler at length:
“I think what we see here is a great culture war, the great moral divide in this country being made very apparent. … [People] saw the president’s sins, and the resulting consequences which should come of them, in entirely different worldviews. It was impossible for persons on one side of that divide to understand the other.
“I think we’re all losers here. … I think we’ve learned something new about the moral climate of America, something very disturbing.
“There is sin all around. No one has any right to act as if there is no sin in him,” Mohler said, reflecting comments from some of the other guests who noted the sick and dark condition of Americans’ hearts and souls.
“The issue is what do we as culture … rightly expect to be the moral standard whereby our leaders should live and be accountable to the American public?” Mohler asked.
“The real issue is the president’s character … [and] the way we have separated sin from consequences. That is fatal for a society. … We’re becoming very satisfied with an inconsequential understanding of moral evil.”
Mohler said later generations will be “greatly harmed” by some of the immoral messages afloat in American culture, including the message sent by the senators who acquitted Clinton.
Apparently, the president’s character is no longer an issue when the president is a Republican.
Core Evangelical Values in 2016
In 2016, Mohler questioned whether Trump supporters adhered to core evangelical values.
MOHLER: We have taken comfort in the fact that there have been millions and millions of us in America. And a part of that evidence has been the last several election cycles, with the evangelical vote being in the millions. And now we’re having to face the fact that, evidently, theologically-defined – defined by commitment to core evangelical values – there aren’t so many millions of us as we thought.
On CNN, Mohler told Don Lemon the election of 2016 was a disaster for evangelicals. He didn’t favor Hillary Clinton but had special criticism for Trump. Watch:
This quote is haunting: “When it comes to Donald Trump, evangelicals are going to have to ask a huge question: Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?” Apparently, it is worth it to Mohler to destroy what moral credibility evangelicals as a group have left to endorse Trump.
Character Still Mattered in 2018
Mohler probably needs to apologize twice to Clinton because as late as June 2018, he was banging on Clinton for his morals. In a column reacting to Clinton’s inadequate answer about his lack of apology to Monica Lewinsky, Mohler wrote:
That’s the twisted, convoluted, moral world that many of us remember from the 1990s and the play out of the sordid affairs concerning Bill Clinton as president of the United States. I bring it up today on The Briefing simply because of this. We need to remember that this kind of action has consequences, and the consequences continue.
I could go on but I think the point is made that Al Mohler has used Bill Clinton as a punching bag since the late 1990s, was consistent when judging Trump at first, but has now flipped. He owes more than Bill Clinton an apology. He owes every Christian who listened to him an apology.
As David French pointed out in his excellent commentary, Mohler’s endorsement comes as Donald Trump presides over a dismal performance as president during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we speak, Trump is undermining his own COVID-19 task force by encouraging civil disobedience among his supporters. Instead of telling his supporters to go by the social distance guidelines, he tweeted for them to “Liberate” their states. Trump’s unfaithfulness may no longer involve women, but it has consequences nonetheless.
After all is said, the only thing I get out of Mohler’s turnabout is that he has done what he said he didn’t want to do – bend his “argument to the political urgency of the moment.”