"Last week President Trump, facing a mutiny by American business leaders on two of his business advisory councils, abruptly shuttered them. The councils were largely ceremonial, but suddenly they were an opportunity for executives to take a stand against Mr. Trump’s equivocations following the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. And the executives, not often looked to for moral guidance, were being lauded for taking a principled stand against the president.
All of which raises a question. What about the people who actually are supposed to provide moral guidance — the president’s 25-member Evangelical Executive Advisory Board?
The board, which Mr. Trump created in 2016 while he was running for president, is likewise a largely ceremonial body, though also one designed to give cover to the famously irreligious candidate and allow him an entree to millions of evangelical voters. In exchange, the board members got unprecedented access to the White House; one activist later said the president had them on “speed dial.”
President Trump has also followed through on many of his promises to the evangelical community, such as nominating an anti-abortion jurist to the Supreme Court and taking on Planned Parenthood.
But access comes at a price. While these leaders may think they are doing the right thing for their followers in keeping a clear line to the president, in doing so they are forced to be silent on his transgressions.
So far only one member of the board, A. R. Bernard, a pastor in Brooklyn, has resigned, citing “a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.” Although he submitted his resignation on Aug. 15, Mr. Bernard said that he had already decided to leave a few months ago.
Contrast that with another member of the board, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who not only is staying on but has also lauded President Trump’s “bold, truthful statement” on Charlottesville.
To be fair, some of the evangelical advisory board members have spoken out against the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. Johnnie Moore, a public-relations executive who works with evangelical groups and is a member of the board, was even willing to criticize Mr. Trump, saying, “The president is certainly guilty of being insensitive.” But for the most part, members of this board have made it clear that they approve of Mr. Trump’s comments, and his performance in office generally, and that they intend to remain a bulwark of support for him.
It is important to understand that these leaders, despite their megachurches and presidential access, do not speak for all Christians in this country. My organization, the National Council of Churches, is made up of 30 million Christians in more than 100,000 local congregations of its member denominations — Orthodox, Anglican, mainline Protestant and historic peace churches — who have been quick to rally against the rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Since at least the early 1960s, when one of my predecessors, J. Irwin Miller, put the National Council of Churches at the center of the civil rights movement, our member churches have been committed to justice and tolerance, and have used their position in their communities to rally support against racism and oppression.
A few members of the evangelical board have argued that whatever the president’s mistakes, it is better for them to remain in a position to influence him. But they overestimate their ability to shape the president’s thinking and underappreciate the impact that taking a stand against his comments would have.
But again, most of them have remained silent. And that silence speaks volumes. They do not appear to fear that their association with a president who defends the statues of those who fought for slavery, as well as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, will create problems for them with their congregations, universities, seminaries, television audiences or nonprofit organizations. This may be a miscalculation: Already, dozens of Liberty University alumni are returning their diplomas, disgusted with Mr. Falwell’s stalwart support of the president.
In the coming months and years, America’s Christians will be repeatedly tested — by their president, and by a society increasingly riven along racial and religious lines. Charlottesville is just the beginning. I am proud that during the rally and counter-protests that weekend, the denominations that constitute the National Council of Churches were present in a dignified, disciplined, nonviolent manner, and they refused to cower before the white nationalists who were shouting abuse, wielding clubs and inciting violence that caused the death of an innocent bystander.
We refuse to countenance a president who gives quarter to those who sow hate and injustice among the American public. Our congregations will continue to witness to a God who loves everyone regardless of race or creed. We need our evangelical sisters and brothers to join us."
All the President’s Preachers