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The Evangelical Response To Trump


A majority of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in November. And now that he's president, they're watching how he handles questions of religion and religious freedom. Julie Roys is an evangelical blogger and host of the nationally broadcasted radio show "Up For Debate," and she joins us now from Moody Radio in Chicago.

Thanks for being with us.

JULIE ROYS: Oh, great to be with you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump said he wants to quote, "destroy the Johnson Amendment." That's the 1954 law that prevents tax-exempt groups like churches from getting involved in political campaigns or endorsing candidates. Is this really an important issue for evangelicals?

ROYS: I would say for those of us in Christian media or who work for a Christian nonprofit like I do, it is a big issue. And I think it is a big issue for some pastors who feel like they've been muzzled from free political speech because of this law. And, you know, it's interesting - when I hear a lot of people talk about this Johnson Amendment, they talk about it as a necessary wall between church and state that needs to be in place or otherwise, you know, churches will be running amok.

But if you look at how it was actually initially enacted, it was enacted by Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. He was upset that a nonprofit was actually distributing literature on the behalf of his opponent. And so when it was first enacted, it was very much a political type of thing. It really wasn't - didn't have anything to do with religious activities or nonprofits stepping over the line.

I don't think a lot of churches, for example, or a lot of congregations are interested in their pastors telling them who to vote for or who not to vote for. But I think there's just this sense that the government doesn't have any right to tell religious groups what to say, and that's how this Johnson Amendment may be used.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But isn't there a worry as well that, you know, churches could turn into channels for political contributions or that in speaking on behalf of political parties, churches could become beholden to them in some way and that the, you know, the message that the churches impart could be tainted by involvement in the political process?

ROYS: Well, I think there's a sense that they should have freedom of speech just like anybody else. And so they should have freedom to act however they want. Do we want the government - this is the fundamental question is - do we want the government enforcing what pastors can and can't say? And the Johnson Amendment gives the government the authority to do that. And so they are policing our churches.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to turn now to President Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. What do evangelicals want to see the court do on issues of religion?

ROYS: Well, I think they're thrilled with Gorsuch's nomination. And I think that's because he has been a friend of life issues. He hasn't spoken out specifically on abortion. But we have seen, for example, that when he was writing against euthanasia and assisted suicide, he very strongly said that he believes that every life has inherent worth.

He also supported some high-profile cases where there are religious freedom issues, for example, Hobby Lobby, who did not want to comply with the contraception mandate that Health and Human Services was handing down. He supported their right to be exempt from that because it violated their personal religious convictions.

So I think there's optimism that he'll support the sanctity of life and the right of every human being to live, whether they're born or unborn. And he will also be strong on religious freedom issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's the range of opinion from evangelicals? I'm just taking your temperature here on the hot-button issues of the day. But, you know...

ROYS: Sure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...President Trump's immigration policy, specifically the recent order temporarily banning refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. - and now that's been temporarily halted - but what's the general feeling?

ROYS: I don't know if there is a general feeling. I know, personally, friends of mine who are strong Christians, who I've gone to church with who were at O'Hare airport protesting the executive order and have been posting on social media how they think it's awful and that Jesus told us that we should treat strangers in the same way that we would treat him. And so they're saying this is just an unchristian executive order.

I have other friends who are posting support for the executive order on social media. And when I talk to them, they'll say, for example - hey, Nehemiah built a wall around Jerusalem to protect Israel.

You know, there's support in scriptures for having borders. And then I think there's a group of us in the middle that are torn in between and just feeling like, OK, I don't know if there's a clear Christian response. Certainly, some of the rhetoric is repulsive, and we don't like that. But I think it's one of those where it's just requires a lot of discernment and, I think, some grace between Americans that we can, you know, maybe listen to both sides and understand both sides and not be so polarized. I think that would be helpful in this whole discussion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julie Roys hosts the Christian radio program "Up For Debate." Thanks so much.

ROYS: Thank you. Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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