Evangelical leader Albert Mohler says he’s horrified by chaos on Capitol Hill, but backs Trump’s vote

If the Reverend Albert Mohler had been able to rewind history, he says he would have had a different judgment on President Donald Trump.

But the well-known evangelical figure feels no remorse over his decision to support the president’s re-election and is pleading for others to do the same.

“I stand by the comments I made moment by moment,” Mohler said Wednesday night. “If I could rewind history and know then what I know now, we would be talking about a different kind of judgment. But we must live life in a timeline and seek to be faithful in those times.

Mohler is the longtime president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship seminary in Louisville, Ky., and is a candidate to lead the SBC when the church group elects a new president in June.

The evangelical leader has forcefully condemned Trump over the past half-decade, calling him a sexual predator at one point and, after Trump snagged the Republican Party nomination in 2016, tweeting simply, “Never. Never. Period.”

His decision late last year to back Trump’s re-election sparked a firestorm as the SBC, the country’s second-largest religious group, continued to grapple with racial issues and, before that, his relationship with long standing with conservative politicians.

Since then, Mohler has repeatedly spoken out against Trump, including when the incumbent president continued his false claims of widespread voter fraud.

He spoke to the Chronicle on Wednesday night about the violence and chaos that erupted at the nation’s Capitol earlier in the day.

Here is a transcript of that conversation, edited for clarity:

Chronicle: As you reflect on the events of the day so far, what are your thoughts?

Mohler: Well, my first thought is that we’ve seen the unfolding of an American tragedy and scandal. It’s a sight I never thought Americans would see: the necessity of the National Guard being called upon primarily to protect the United States Capitol and the work of Congress in fulfilling its constitutional responsibility.

There were people erecting crucifixes, waving Jesus 2020 banners. How does that make you feel?

Well, it only adds to the scandal to have God dragged into this equation as if there is divine sanction for this kind of unreasonable activity.

But don’t be naive. Attempts to co-opt Christianity for political ends date back to the Roman Empire. There is therefore no shock in this scheme. But there is an absolute shock to the extent to which he has been fully exposed in Washington.

Reverend R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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What role do you think you and other evangelical leaders played in this?

I fully await the question, but I have tried to be extremely clear since the beginning of the Trump phenomenon in terms of judgment. And I stand by the comments I made at all times. If I could rewind history and know then what I know now, we would be talking about a different kind of judgment.

But we must live life in a timeline and seek to be faithful in those times. And for most evangelical Christians, voting for Donald Trump was seen as a necessity in a binary system.

Now there are some who have just openly celebrated Trump. But I think there will be a lot of embarrassment for that now.

You mentioned that if you had hindsight, your judgment would be different. Can you clarify what that judgment would be?

Not really, because we really don’t have the ability to go back and know then what we know now. And we always end up with this horrifying binary in a polarized America…. I could no more vote for Joe Biden today than I could vote for him on November 3.

But what we saw was that the real character of Donald Trump came out in a way that I don’t find – that I don’t accept was just inevitable.

He bears full responsibility for his actions and words. And he bears full responsibility for encouraging what amounted to an attempted insurrection against the United States government.

There are people who would hear that and say, ‘We’re talking about what you would have done or not done in hindsight, but it’s not as if there weren’t people, including within this SBC and other evangelical circles, saying, ‘That’s who Donald Trump was.’ I think you will agree that they have proven themselves at least somewhat today. Do you think you should have listened to them more? What lessons do you draw from this?

I’m not going to get into the naïveté that pretends we don’t have a binary choice. And we are all responsible for the choices we make.

I do not believe that there is a fatality to the actions of Donald Trump, for which he is responsible, in recent weeks. I didn’t think he was going to go quietly into a potential defeat. But what we saw is something beyond what, frankly, I would have imagined in an American nightmare.

I understand your position on Trump and understand that it is nuanced and has evolved over time. But there are also people who don’t read the daily religious news, don’t follow this stuff, don’t listen to (Mohler’s podcast, “The Briefing”) every day and don’t hear these points. They don’t see the nuance of your opinion; they just see an endorsement from someone of your stature in the evangelical world, from Trump. Do you think when you do these endorsements?

Well, again, I didn’t pick Donald Trump as the GOP nominee. I didn’t choose a binary in which I have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

There is therefore no way to enter this field as if there were a realistic alternative. And so the Never Trumpers can feel quite self-satisfied. But the reality is that I don’t believe their position was more tenable.

Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by “more tenable”?

I think, given what was at stake in the 2020 election in the positions of the Democratic Party and its candidate, and the positions of the Republican Party and its candidate, there was simply no legitimate way out of this binary dilemma.

And we can’t go back and question November 3, but I voted in good conscience on November 3.

And I get your point that there are people who aren’t going to follow the nuances, but I have to live with an argument that unfolds and is consistent every day, and I’ve tried my best my whole life to adult to define what a principled Christian and conservative position is. And I will continue doing it.

If people assume that everyone who voted for Trump was celebrating Trump’s character and personality, then there’s nowhere to go.

I understand your point that this is a binary choice, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. Because you didn’t have to endorse anyone. You had been recorded in previous years very strongly condemning Trump as a candidate and as president. Why did you feel compelled to wade through this knowledge – you had to know what was at stake –

Robert, I am ready to answer this question, but I will only answer it honestly: given the role that I play, in the middle of an election, I am asked practically every day: “How are you going to vote?” There’s actually no way to avoid answering this question if you live in my place, because even not answering the question is one way of answering it.

I clarified in April of this year what my relatives had known for a long time. People listening to The Briefing were certainly not surprised that, weighing the issues in the balance, I said I would vote for Donald Trump.

I understand your use of the word approval, but I didn’t use it because it’s a different step. But I made it clear that I was going to vote for Trump, gave the reasons, and encouraged others to do the same.

And you know, in 2016, I didn’t vote for Trump. I also didn’t think Trump would be elected president. I feel like I’m in pretty good company in there.

But he was elected president. And once he became president, I said out loud, ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to try to help his administration get the right policies in place,’ and I’ll support the administration when he s would act on these good policies and oppose them when he didn’t

And there have been very significant and very clear political gains under the Trump administration. I had hoped that the same pattern would continue for another four years.

It changes the gears a bit. I see a lot of people who watched what happened today and saw a lot of white faces, acting violently that weren’t treated the same as, say, Black Lives Matter protesters the have been summer there –

Insurgents must be treated as insurgents, whatever the context and whatever side of the political equation they find themselves on.

Sure. I agree. Nothing today, I suppose, has changed your view of critical race theory (which argues that law and legal institutions have supported and been sources of racism and white supremacy).

But seeing some of today’s events, has it somehow changed the way you think about race and inequality in America more generally?

You don’t need (critical race theory) to understand how sinful, wrong and awful racism is. You don’t need CRT to tell you that this was a grotesque display of human sin. And that it was racism in its most basic form. And so there is no hesitation in condemning racism as racism.

But we don’t need CRTs to understand a biblical doctrine of sin.

You said earlier, I can’t remember exactly how you phrased it – but you still wouldn’t have voted for Joe Biden today. Would you have voted for Donald Trump?

What I said is that I voted in good conscience on November 3. We don’t have an election today. So I’m not going to speculate.

But I did not vote on November 3 believing and expecting that what would happen today would happen. I am truly shocked and horrified by the developments that have taken place today.

But is there any remorse in that?

How can you feel remorse for doing what you believe was right on November 3? I mean, it’s not even historically viable.

Maybe remorse isn’t the right word.

My regret is to find that Donald Trump acted in this way and sought to openly encourage the subversion of the Constitution he had sworn to uphold.

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Barry F. Howard