On Trump, Young Evangelicals Try To 'Forgive As We've Been Forgiven'

Oct 12, 2016
Originally published on October 12, 2016 5:47 pm

Liberty University is a place where Donald Trump still has a lot of support.

But his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is the one who seems naturally at home at the Virginia college, in a way the flamboyant New York real estate developer is not.

Pence spent Wednesday morning campaigning at the school. In his speech, he alluded to Scripture about sin and redemption as he talked about the scandal surrounding his running mate — the release of a tape where Trump can be heard explicitly boasting about groping women.

"We're called to aspire to live godly lives, but also we recognize that we all fall short," Pence told the audience.

It was in stark contrast to Trump's appearance there earlier this year, when he famously flubbed the pronunciation of a book of the Bible — calling it "two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians."

Pence is a longtime evangelical, well-versed in the language and theology of this crowd. He argued that Trump has apologized and said it's time to extend to him the Christian virtue of forgiveness.

"It's not about condoning what is said and done; it's about believing in Grace and forgiveness," Pence said. "As Christians, we are called to forgive, even as we've been forgiven."

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., is standing by Trump, but many evangelicals are struggling with that decision.

In recent days, two major conservative Christian publications have written editorials denouncing Trump's words on the 2005 recording. World magazine called on Trump to withdraw as the Republican nominee. And Christianity Today called on evangelicals to confront Trump's moral failings.

But for Jonathan Ludwig, a freshman at Liberty University from New Jersey, Pence's call for forgiveness rang true, even though he finds Trump's words about women "disgusting."

"I think that's inappropriate on all levels and it's inexcusable. But I do know this — that we all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God and we need Jesus and that's just the truth," Ludwig said. "He made those comments 11 years ago and from what I've heard he knows Jesus now, so I'll offer him the same grace God gave him to forgive him for that."

For his friend Christopher Horton, a freshman from Miami, Trump's character and language have been making him rethink his political loyalties.

"I have had Republican views since growing up and just recently, I struggle with Donald Trump's comments about women," Horton said. "I don't think he's very professional, and I find it hard to vote for him and have him represent our great nation."

Horton says he believes Clinton is corrupt — as Trump often argues — but he's leaning toward voting for her anyway.

Bayley Sharp, a freshman from Roanoke, Va., said she heard the 2005 tape of Trump and wasn't pleased.

"My dad taught me that men should respect women, and the way he was talking about women wasn't respectable," Sharp said. "That shouldn't be what our president should look like."

But Sharp says she loves Mike Pence and feels better with him on the ticket. She says her opposition to abortion is her top priority in choosing a presidential candidate and Sharp sees Trump as the better of two bad choices. So, she's accepting his apology.

"Right now, I feel like he has apologized for that and he wants to move on from that," Sharp said, "And hopefully he will."

While abortion may motivate many conservative evangelicals to stick with Trump, it could be harder to persuade moderate voters to forgive and forget --especially with dozens of leaders of Trump's own party calling for him to step aside.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Evangelical voters have had a complicated relationship with Donald Trump for months. Many have come around to the Republican nomination, but some - they've felt their confidence shaken by the release last week of the 2005 recording where Trump can be heard using vulgar language and boasting about groping women.

Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, spent the morning campaigning at a leading evangelical college where he told young voters it's time to forgive Trump. NPR's Sarah McCammon has more from Lynchburg, Va.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Liberty University is a place where Donald Trump still has a lot of support, but Indiana Governor Mike Pence seems at home here in a way the flamboyant real estate developer from New York is not. Pence alluded to a scripture about sin and redemption as he talked about the scandal surrounding his running mate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: We're called to aspire to live godly lives, but also we recognize that we all fall short.

MCCAMMON: Trump appeared here earlier this year and famously flubbed his pronunciation of a book of the Bible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Two Corinthians - right? - Two Corinthians, 3:17 - that's the whole ballgame.

MCCAMMON: Pence meanwhile is a longtime evangelical well-versed in the language and theology of this crowd. He argued that Trump has apologized, and it's time to extend to him the Christian virtue of forgiveness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCCAMMON: Though it's not about condoning what is said and done. It's about believing in grace and forgiveness. As Christians, we are called to forgive even as we've been forgiven.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAMMON: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. is standing by Trump, but many evangelicals are struggling with their decision. In recent days, two major conservative Christian publications have written editorials denouncing Trump's character in the wake of the 2005 recording. World Magazine called on Trump to withdraw from the Republican nomination, and Christianity Today called on evangelicals to confront Trump's moral failings. But for Jonathan Ludwig, a freshman from New Jersey, Pence's call for forgiveness rang true even though he finds Trump's words about women disgusting.

JONATHAN LUDWIG: I think that that's inappropriate on all levels, and it's excusable. But I do know this. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God, and we need Jesus. And that's just the truth. And he made those comments 11 years ago, and from what I hear, he knows Jesus now. And I'll offer the same grace God gave him to forgive him for that.

MCCAMMON: For his friend Christopher Horton, a freshman from Miami, Trump's character and language have been making him rethink his political loyalties.

CHRISTOPHER HORTON: I have had Republican views since growing up, and just recently I struggle with Donald Trump's comments about women. I don't think he's very professional. And I find it hard to vote for him and have him represent our great nation.

MCCAMMON: Horton says he believes Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is corrupt, as Trump often argues. But he's leaning toward voting for her anyway. Bayley Sharp, a freshman from Roanoke, Va., said she heard the tape and wasn't pleased.

BAYLEY SHARP: My dad taught me that men should respect women, and the way that he was talking about women obviously wasn't respectable. And that shouldn't be what our president should look like.

MCCAMMON: But Sharp said she loves Mike Pence, and she feels better with him on the ticket. She says her opposition to abortion is her top priority in choosing a presidential candidate, and she sees Trump as the better of two bad choices. So she's accepting his apology.

SHARP: Right now I feel like he has apologized for that. And he wants to move on from that, and hopefully he will.

MCCAMMON: While abortion may motivate many conservative evangelicals to stick with Trump, it could be harder to persuade moderate voters to forgive and forget, especially with dozens of leaders of Trump's own party calling for him to step aside. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Lynchburg, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.