Non-partisan group National Religious Broadcasters hosted a spirited discussion, "Evangelicals Debate the 2016 Election: Trump, Clinton, or Other," with four evangelical leaders at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Friday.
"This presidential election is unlike any other in many years," NRB President Jerry Johnson said. "Unfortunately, most of the debate about this matter - especially as it relates to Trump - has occurred in dueling op-eds, blog posts and tweets. We're holding this forum to allow for a reasoned, careful debate among leading evangelical spokespersons in the hope it will result in more light and less heat."
The debaters included:
- Erick Erickson, host of Atlanta's Evening News on WSB Radio in Atlanta and editor of TheResurgent.com, representing the "Never Trump" position
- Janet Parshall, radio host of "In the Market with Janet Parshall" and a Trump supporter
- Bill Wichterman, a former congressional staffer and special assistant to George W. Bush, speaking against Trump.
- Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland., speaking in support of Trump.
Johnson said the four debaters reflected diverse backgrounds, professions and political commitments. "Christians - now, more than ever - must be America's best citizens. We hope this forum will help them be that this election season and beyond. Being the best citizens necessarily includes an educated vote for president, including this year."
"We have a man running for president of the United States who has bragged about his affairs, who has bragged about stiffing other with the bill, who has cheated women, widows, who has said he's never had to ask God for forgiveness, who does not identify Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, but says he's a Christian," Erickson said.
"If we are in the public square advocating for someone like that, what good is it of us as Christians to say we believe in the inerrancy of scripture when scripture tells us we should not be advocating for a person like that," he said in Barbwire.
Parshall countered, pointing to the importance of evangelicals getting out and voting.
"I think that maybe Erick subscribes to the W.C. Fields worldview, 'I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.' Or perhaps he subscribes to Jay Leno's worldview, 'If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates,'" Parshall said.
"Well let's just look at the numbers because as John Adams said, 'Facts are stubborn things.' There are 35 million quote, unquote, evangelical voters in America. Twenty-eight million are registered to vote. In 2012, it was 335,000 votes in four swing states that made the difference. This is ... a profoundly crucial election where every single vote will count."
Bishop Jackson offered his thoughts on whether evangelicals are being duped by Trump's candidacy.
"Well, I don't think he's playing us. I think he understands at this point. I'm not so sure he understood it at the very beginning that he's really got to ingratiate himself with a certain demographic, and I think he's selected the Christian community and the conservative Christian community to be the folks that he really wants to receive support from," he said.
"So what I see is a man who's been shaped in the debates, and in the process, who's starting to understand these different groups are the groups that I have to have with me over the long haul," he said.
Still, Wichterman remained skeptical on Trump's ability to be questioned by those who surround him.
"Does Donald Trump have a reputation as a man who likes to surround himself with people who challenge his authority and like to hear from dissenting opinion? No, quite the opposite. I don't have any confidence that Mike Pence, a good man, will be able to have that influence on Donald Trump," he said.