First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the White House evangelical advisory council, whose members have remained steadfast in their support for Donald Trump, and whether the controversy surrounding his "shithole countries" comments has shaken his standing among these ardent faith-based backers.
Evidently not. The Washington Post reported:
A few members of President Trump's evangelical advisory council — including its spokesman — on Friday defended the president after he made comments about immigrants from places including Africa and Central America.In a statement to The Washington Post, [advisory council] spokesman Johnnie Moore questioned whether Trump had actually made the comments and accused Congress of holding up immigration reform. If Trump did make the comments, Moore said, they "were crass." The reports about Trump's remarks are "absolutely suspect and politicized," Moore said. [...]Others in the advisory group — the only known regular pipeline of religious feedback to the White House — spoke in support of the president, saying that his language may not have been acceptable but that his views are.
As best as I can tell, much of Trump's evangelical council had no interest in commenting at all, which is itself problematic. That said, Robert Jeffress, a controversial far-right mega-church leader in Texas who enjoys close White House ties, went quite a bit further, endorsing Trump's racially inflammatory sentiment. "I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can't use that language," Jeffress told the Post.
This isn't altogether surprising. After Trump was heard bragging about sexually assaulting women on the "Access Hollywood" tape, his most prominent evangelical advisers stood by him. After Trump defended racist activists in Charlottesville last summer, only one member of the White House's evangelical advisory council resigned, no longer willing to be associated with this president.
As of last night, no current members have resigned in response to the president's racist rhetoric this week.
"Trump has courted evangelicals, some of whom have had access to him and his administration," Wheaton College's Ed Stetzer wrote yesterday. "I hope those evangelical leaders will speak clearly, reminding Trump that all people are worthy of dignity and respect because they are made in the image of God."
So far, many of these evangelical voices have been reluctant to say anything of the sort.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The latest controversy involving sex and a megachurch pastor erupted this week in Memphis: "A pastor at a Tennessee megachurch received a standing ovation after admitting to a 'sexual incident' with a high school student 20 years ago -- days after a woman came forward to accuse him of sexual assault."
* This sounds like an issue to be resolved in the courts: "Houses of worship damaged during natural disasters will be able to rebuild using federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Trump administration has announced, a shift traditional faith groups have been requesting from presidents for decades without success. FEMA will accept disaster aid applications from houses of worship -- along with other damaged non-profits -- until Feb. 4. the agency announced this week."
* Quite a story out of Arkansas: "An Arkansas mosque has paid off the remaining court fines of a man who helped vandalize their sacred space -- doing its part to make sure he doesn’t have to serve any more jail time for the crime. Hisham Yasin, social director of the Masjid Al Salam in Fort Smith, told HuffPost on Tuesday that his congregation had forgiven the convicted vandal, Abraham Davis, long ago. Paying the more than $1,700 in fines Davis still owed was a way to put that forgiveness into action."