GOP presidential politics, professional wrestling style
OKLAHOMA CITY — In our younger years, my brother, Scott,…
OKLAHOMA CITY — To Ethan Garrett, a presidential candidate’s integrity and personal values matter.
As Garrett sees it, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump lacks those qualities.
“I’m not a big fan,” said Garrett, a member of the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
“I just think Trump lacks basic decency and manners,” added the 25-year-old energy company accountant. “And that’s not something I want to have the kids of this nation … looking at as a role model.”
Garrett’s wife, Danielle, and sister, Tori, joined him at an Oklahoma campaign rally for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of Trump’s main challengers.
In the days leading up to crucial Super Tuesday voting on March 1, Trump, Rubio and the other leading GOP contender — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — all swooped into the Sooner State to energize supporters.
Tori Garrett, 19, is preparing to vote in her first presidential election. She said she didn’t know much about Rubio but wanted to find out more.
“It’s kind of slim pickings with all the candidates,” Tori Garrett said. “There’s no one ideal candidate.”
Asked what appeals to her about Rubio, she replied, “He’s not Trump.”
Not so fast, responds Don Middleton, minister for the Cross Timbers Church of Christ in Stephenville, Texas.
“I really have not had a significant issue with making a case for Trump, even though I know many would disagree,” said Middleton, who also has considered Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “Jimmy Carter was a fine Christian man but one of our worst presidents, in my opinion. JFK was no poster child for Christianity (or) morality but has long been considered a strong president by many.
“Trump certainly has many personality flaws, but he does make many good points — most of which relate to how he would handle business, foreign and other policies,” the Texas minister added. “Some say he may be crazy, but I say ‘crazy like a fox.’”
‘CHURCH OF CHRIST PRIMARY’
Super Tuesday has been dubbed the “SEC primary” because it involves so many states with teams in the Southeastern Conference.
But it also could be called the “Church of Christ primary”: Roughly 60 percent of the 1.5 million U.S. adherents of Churches of Christ nationwide live in states that will be voting Tuesday.
Among the Bible Belt states holding primaries or caucuses: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
“Members of the Churches of Christ are all over the map in this election,” said Neal Coates, a political scientist at Abilene Christian University in Texas. “There is no one favorite candidate. In fact, this seems to be an election in which the least favorite option is eliminated in the process of choosing the eventual nominee for the Republicans.”
What to make of Trump?
“Members of Churches of Christ, it seems to me, are not supportive of Trump’s personal life and tactics that have led to much of his wealth,” Coates said. “But he represents some sort of strength and commitment and business success. … There is also the feeling that someone, anyone, needs to replace the current president and that the Republican elite and their preferred candidates — now Rubio — have not taken enough steps to prevent Obamacare and to speak out against the Supreme Court decision on homosexual marriage or to oppose unlimited immigration.”
NOT VOTING FOR ‘PASTOR IN CHIEF’
A big chunk of the GOP faithful — including some typically considered “values voters” — has gravitated toward the brash, billionaire businessman.
In the Feb. 20 primary in South Carolina, white evangelical Christian voters were split among Trump (34 percent), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (26 percent), Rubio (21 percent) and others, according to exit polls cited by the Pew Research Center.
“I think there is a lot of anxiety among brethren because no one really captures their passion,” said Danny Holman, minister for the South Main Church of Christ in Greenville, Miss. “I also think a lot of people are keeping their vote to themselves because they don’t feel it is ‘ecclesiologically correct’ — the church’s version of politically correct.”
As the New York Times noted Sunday, “It is one of the prime paradoxes of the 2016 election: A twice-divorced candidate who has flaunted his adultery, praised Planned Parenthood and admitted to never asking for God’s forgiveness is the favorite of the Christian right.”
Mark Burns leads a prayer at a Donald Trump rally in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)As thousands welcomed Trump to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Friday, an African-American pastor named Mark Burns — who preaches for the Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, S.C. — led an opening prayer.
Burns assured the crowd that Trump believes in Jesus Christ and said — with his election — “Christians will again have a friend in the White House.”
“It’s not about who’s the best Christian because we’re not voting for the next pastor in chief,” Burns said. “We’re voting for the next president of the United States.”
But Deb Christian, a member of the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, said she’s turned off by much of the rhetoric by the leading Republican candidates.
“I understand that politics is a rough-and-tumble arena,” Christian said, “but the slurs, cracks and innuendo mostly turn me off on the candidate who speaks them.
“I do remind myself, and occasionally others, that while the political process is important to our country, the United States of America is not the kingdom of God,” she added. “As Christians, we do need to be aware of and involved in the city, state (and) nation, in order to love our neighbors, but ultimately, that is not where our citizenship lies.”
An anti-Trump blog post by best-selling Christian author and Abilene Christian alumnus Max Lucado went viral last week.
“I don’t know Trump,” Lucado wrote in the piece, titled “Decency for President.” “But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. … He routinely calls people ‘stupid,’ ‘loser’ and ‘dummy.’”
Stephen Morris, left, speaks on a political panel at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. (PHOTO BY JUD DAVIS)At Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., which is associated with Churches of Christ, a recent political panel tackled the issue of “Presidential Selection: Does Style TRUMP Substance?” More than 200 students and faculty members attended.
Trump’s rise “defies every piece of conventional wisdom about presidential elections that I ever learned,” said panelist Stephen Morris, a law and political studies professor at Freed-Hardeman.
Morris, who sponsors FHU’s College Republicans, said he has a friend who is disenchanted with Washington, D.C., politicians. That friend, who thinks Trump could be the answer, suggested to Morris that the definition of insanity is “to continue to do the same thing and expect different results.”
Morris said he replied, “Another definition of insanity might be to think you could fix a complex machine (like the federal government) by throwing a stick of dynamite at it.”
In past elections, many conservative Christian voters cited “shares my values” or “represents my values” as a key factor in deciding which candidate to support, Morris said.
“It’s like we’re changing our standard of whom we’re voting for in this election,” the Tennessee professor said. “A lot of folks are backing away from their convictions to change things in Washington, for good or ill.”
FOR MANY, A TOUGH CHOICE
But can Christian voters trust that Trump would defend their interests?
“The problem with Trump, for socially conservative voters, is not that one doubts that he is really a social conservative,” said John McAdams, who teaches courses on American politics, public opinion and voter behavior at Marquette University and attends the Northtown Church of Christ in Milwaukee. “It’s the doubt that Trump has any abiding convictions, except for whatever benefits Donald Trump at the moment.”
For many members of Churches of Christ going to the polls Tuesday, picking a candidate will be tough, said Ken Richter, minister for the Soldier Creek Church of Christ in Piedmont, Okla., northwest of Oklahoma City.
“If this campaign does nothing else, it will probably force a majority of Christians to either abstain or vote for a candidate that has less in common with their traditional or core values than any election in recent memory,” Richter said.
Media and supporters at a Marco Rubio campaign rally in Oklahoma City. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
For Kevin Gordon, a member of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, Trump is not in the mix.
Gordon said he’ll weigh the “mettle, character, leadership and class” of Cruz and Rubio, then pick the best man of those two.
“To me, Trump’s one redeeming quality is that he can’t be bought,” Gordon said. “Unfortunately, that quality prevents him from being redeemed.
“I can’t vote for someone whose life has demonstrated so much moral decay,” the Texas church member added. “While I can align with some of Trump’s solutions, I can’t align with the man.”
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