Some liberals have spent the last year and a half trying to grasp the relationship between Donald Trump and evangelicals. And if Wednesday’s opinion pages are any indication, they’re no closer to understanding now than they were then.
In some cases, that bewilderment has turned to spite. Desperate to peel off some of the president’s support, they try to shame Trump’s base away, accusing evangelicals of everything from hypocrisy to naivety. One of their favorite games to play is, “What if Barack Obama had [insert something that President Trump has done]?” Jonathan Zimmerman is the latest to try it, taking direct aim at FRC in a USA Today column that compares our enthusiasm for Trump’s policies to our frustration with Obama’s.
He points out that I’ve taken North Korea to task for its heinous treatment of Christians as recently as this year. “So,” he asks, “where were Perkins and his fellow evangelical Christians last week, when President Donald Trump was lavishing praise upon North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un? They were on the sidelines, mostly, or congratulating Trump for his diplomatic coup… You’d think,” he said bitterly, “that the mass imprisonment and executions of Christians would draw unequivocal denunciations from other Christians, no matter who was president. Think again.”
First of all, FRC — and the broader evangelical movement — has been an outspoken defender of international religious freedom for decades. We, along with several other faith leaders, signed a letter calling on President Trump to bring up Kim Jong Un’s human rights abuses before his Singapore summit. And the president, as he’s done on multiple occasions throughout his first term, did raise the issue. “It was discussed. It will be discussed more in the future — human rights,” Trump said. “It was discussed. It was discussed relatively briefly compared to denuclearization. Well, obviously, that’s where we started and where we ended. But they will be doing things, and I think he wants to do things.”
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President Trump didn’t shy away from the oppression of Christians in North Korea any more than he did when he called out Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to his face in the White House Rose Garden. We’ve watched the White House fast-track relief efforts through USAID and appoint Sam Brownback as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Liberty. He, the president, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all championed international religious freedom in some of the most abusive countries on earth. And we have applauded them as we would any leaders who stand up to tyrants.
Still, Zimmerman argues, “Imagine that Barack Obama — not Donald Trump — had met with Kim Jong Un. And then suppose that Obama had downplayed the repression of Christians while applauding the dictator responsible for it.” Well, unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine Barack Obama downplaying the repression of Christians. He actually did. In one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century, the U.N. had to shame the president into recognizing the genocide of religious minorities in the Middle East — a fact almost every western world power (and his own party) had already acknowledged. As if that weren’t awful enough, his administration refused to let more than a handful of Christians seek asylum in America, while unvetted Syrian refugees (or terrorists posing as refugees) streamed across the border.
President Trump applauded a few superficial things about Kim Jong Un in hopes of securing a deal that would someday bring an end to North Koreans’ suffering. Does that mean he excuses Kim Jong Un’s brutal policies? Or that we do? Of course not. Zimmerman questions whether conservatives will “hold firm to their own principles… Either religious freedom matters, or it doesn’t. Its fate shouldn’t rest on who is in the White House.”
On that, we agree. It’s a shame that Obama didn’t do more that we could applaud him for. On the rare occasion when he did do something right, we praised him. There were moments like the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden when we cheered along with the rest of America. When it came to his family, we congratulated him for setting a positive example as a father and husband — and said so. We gave Obama credit for nominating Rabbi David Saperstein to the post that Sam Brownback now holds and for signing the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act into law.
Beyond that, it wasn’t so much that conservatives were withholding applause, but that President Obama was doing so little to earn it. To my amazement (and probably most conservatives’), President Trump has not only met — but exceeded — the high policy bar we had set. He’s done more than any recent president to advance the agenda that’s critical to making America a good and prosperous nation. And unless that changes, our enthusiasm won’t.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.