Evangelical Influencers Pan Trump As Driven By ‘Grievances And Self-Importance’

By Yonat Shimron
trump presidential bid girevances
Former President Donald Trump gestures after announcing he is running for president for the third time as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In his biweekly email to evangelical Christian pastors, David Lane, a political operative based in Texas and leader of the American Renewal Project, described former President Donald Trump as out of touch, driven by personal grievances and self-importance.  

“Unfortunately, the former president’s penchant for settling political scores and his compulsion to keep the spotlight upon himself have both become threadbare and trite,” Lane’s email said.

Titled “Why did the red wave die on the vine?,” the email was sent Tuesday (Nov. 29) to some 70,000 subscribers of the American Renewal Project, which is dedicated to mobilizing evangelical pastors to run for office.

Lane’s email was a sign of a growing willingness on the part of evangelicals to criticize the former president. In Trump’s 2016 run for the White House and throughout his failed 2020 campaign, white evangelicals were his most stalwart supporters, with about 80% of white evangelicals voting for him. Despite leaked tapes capturing sexual indiscretion and the rank and file’s general reluctance to describe him as morally upstanding, ordained evangelicals especially presented a near united front in support for Trump.

In the weeks since Trump announced he is running for election again in 2024, however, it appears something has changed.

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Lane lauded Trump’s accomplishments in his email, including his “blue-collar patriotism” and “his fight to place constitutional traditionalists on the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Courts of Appeals.”

david lane grievances
David Lane in an undated image. (Video screen grab)

But Lane added, “His vision of making America as a nation great again has been put on the sidelines, while the mission and the message are now subordinate to personal grievances and self-importance.”

Lane isn’t the only one to take a step back.

Shortly after Trump announced he was running again, Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church and one of his evangelical advisers during the 2016 campaign and a longtime supporter, said he wasn’t going to endorse the former president unless or until he became the Republican nominee.

Mike Evans, a Christian Zionist activist from Texas and another former member of the evangelical advisory board, went so far as to tell The Washington Post he would not vote for Trump again. Evans recalled how he once left a Trump rally “in tears because I saw Bible believers glorifying Donald Trump like he was an idol.”

Texas televangelist and onetime Trump adviser James Robison, president of Life Outreach International, told a meeting of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers in mid-November that the former president has the tendency to act “like a little elementary schoolchild,” focusing on minor spats at the expense of larger goals.

John Fea, a historian at Messiah College who studies evangelical culture and politics, said it may be too early in the election cycle to draw any conclusions about evangelical attitudes toward Trump.

Fea noted that none of the evangelical leaders who have criticized Trump said they were doing so because of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, which Trump fomented, nor the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen or the multiple criminal cases against Trump winding through the courts.

“There’s a huge silence,” Fea said. “They’re not turning away from Trump for the reasons why millions of Americans didn’t vote for (candidates backed by) Trump in 2022.”

What’s new is a willingness to find fault with Trump’s personality — his “self-importance,” his “elementary schoolchild” behavior, his need to command the spotlight — criticisms most evangelicals haven’t aired publicly, despite being questioned often about Trump’s behavior.

On the heels of the GOP’s disappointing performance in the 2022 midterms, in which many Trump-endorsed candidates lost their elections, other segments of the GOP have expressed exasperation with Trump. Many evangelicals may be peeved at the losses as well.

trump grievances
Pastor Robert Jeffress, left, leaves the stage after introducing former President Donald Trump, Dec. 19, 2021, at First Baptist Dallas. (Video screen grab)

There is evidence that Trump’s support among rank-and-file evangelicals may still be strong, and even those leaders whose passion for Trump seems to have cooled hold his presidency in high regard. Jeffress said the former president delivered for evangelicals in a big way.

“I still say, without apology, he is the greatest president we’ve had since Ronald Reagan,” Jeffress said in a telephone call.

Still, he reiterated, he had no desire to engage in Trump’s presidential bid — yet.

“If there’s a prolonged primary fight, I don’t see the need to get into that right now,” Jeffress said. “If he’s the nominee, I will support him enthusiastically and happily.”

Neither Jeffress nor Lane criticized Trump for dining last week with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, both of whom have a history of antisemitic remarks. Lane said he didn’t know anything about Fuentes, and Jeffress said he’s been secluded in the past week and hasn’t talked to “anybody.”

Several Republican lawmakers and former Vice President Mike Pence have rebuked Trump for the dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

ye trump fuentes grievances
Ye, Donald Trump and Nick Fuentes. (File photos)

“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” Pence told NewsNation. “I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”

Lane, whose emails reach Southern Baptist, charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, peppers his notes with biblical quotes and appeals to Christians eager to claim a Judeo-Christian heritage in America’s governance and culture. To that end he has spent nearly $50 million since 2005 to mobilize evangelical pastors to run for school boards, city councils, county commissions, state legislatures and beyond.

In a telephone call, Lane said he didn’t see his missive as criticism as much as advice he hoped the former president would take.

“I think I’m doing him a favor,” Lane said. He said he didn’t think Trump could win by re-litigating the 2020 election results or by mocking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom the former president recently called “Ron De-Sanctimonious” at a rally.

“His personality disorder causes him to combat and war over everything he doesn’t like,” Lane said. “That’s got him off his game. He’s no longer delivering the message of the American people and what’s in the culture.”

In his email to pastors, Lane concluded with a quote from Proverbs: “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”

Yonat ShimronYonat Shimron is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.

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28 thoughts on “Evangelical Influencers Pan Trump As Driven By ‘Grievances And Self-Importance’”

    1. And yet, because of Trump, Roe vs Wade is overturned. Something that wouldn’t have happened if he weren’t elected in 2016.
      Believe me, I have many problems with the man, a lot of things like center-left aligned Christian platforms such as this one don’t even address (and ironically would even agree with Trump on, such as vaccines etc.)

      But it has becoming very tiring to see such platforms and similarly aligned “evangelicals” bash Trump the entire time and nothing is said of the hellish Biden family or the Democratic Party, which is inherently anti-Christian in the strongest sense of the term (while Trump is merely non-Christian that either panders to or caters to Christians with mixed results).

      We really need to get our priorities straight, here.

    2. The Abraham Peace Accords was a very significant accomplishment that didn’t get much play time in the press and appears to that it is being undermined in this administration. Also the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem that many presidents promised to do, but never carried out. In my judgment, he accomplished much more for America than his opponent would have. But he is making himself unappealing at this point in time.

  1. Too little or too late for what? Trump was a great Pres. Yes, not a moral man but Hillary wasn’t moral and Joe Biden is not moral either. So, in that case evangelicals voted for competence which is what we got –I really miss $2/gallon gas and inflation under 2% and a world at peace. We got great Supreme Court justices which (finally) over-ruled Roe v. Wade. That was Biblical for sure –clearly God knits us together in our mother’s womb. Ps. 139.

    1. In Texas, gas is $2.56. Was just driving there earlier this week.
      And can we PLEASE stop with the “end justifies the means” arguments? We as the church had NO business justifying and overlooking the BLATANT sins of Trump with “whataboutisms” and deflections. We are the same church that claimed character matters when Clinton was in the hotseat, but then did some “results matter, not character” and “well, I don’t expect him to be a pastor” nonsense when Trump was in the hotseat. We look ridiculously hypocritical and self-serving…yet wonder why we aren’t winning others to Christ (and are actually losing members, credibility and influence).
      Move on. There are other candidates to support.

    2. Can we please stop with our “the end justifies the means” logic? We as the church continue to lose influence and credibility with the way twist ourselves into knots with whataboutisms and deflections to justify supporting someone who was blatantly and unapologetically dishonest, adulterous, and immoral. We change with the winds of political power, saying “character matters!” and “our POTUS should set an example!” when Clinton was in the hotseat, but then switching to “results matter more than character!” and “I didn’t vote for him to be a pastor!” when Trump was in the hotseat.
      The world is watching our priorities shift from being Christ-centered to being GOP-centered. Instead of reflecting and influencing the culture for Christ, we are reflecting and influencing a politically polarized culture.
      Our only answer is to get back to the Bible, and remember our goal is to win others to Christ. How are we going to do that when we act like politically idolatrous hypocrites?

  2. “ Fea noted that none of the evangelical leaders who have criticized Trump said they were doing so because of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, which Trump fomented, nor the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen or the multiple criminal cases against Trump winding through the courts.”

    “False Claims” ruled by whom? 100 members of congress voiced to the contrary and look how this current lawsuit has made it to the top:

    http://ralandbrunson.com/History/History.html

  3. It was very early on in the 2016 election campaign that the Black American economist Dr. Thomas Sowell hit the nail right on the head when he stated that if Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (and in 2020, Joe Biden) were truly the very best that the Republicans and the Democrats could do, then America is in serious trouble.
    Indeed, it is very probable that many, if not most of those who voted Trump in 2016 did so because they didn’t like the alternative.
    If the Republican Party is to turn things around between now and November 2024, they must recover their roots as the anti-slavery party and the first party to elect Blacks to Congress. The time to start doing this is now and not late into the 2024 campaign.

  4. Unbridled white Evangelical support for a greedy, self-centered, disloyal, mean-spirited, unbelieving, adulterer in Donald Trump, has stained our Christian witness and turned away multitudes from the Church. So much concern expressed for the unborn, and rightly so, but no weeping over souls who reject the Gospel that unbelievers are convinced is peddled by a bunch of hypocritical Trump supporters. Obama took his family to church, was the husband of one wife, a devoted father, deeply concerned about other people, and was kind. Admittedly, Obama was on the wrong side of issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but in spite of his attractive personality, white Evangelicals hated and insulted him at every turn (even the color suit he wore became a target of their ire). Really sad…

    1. Ah yes, the “tan suit” scandal. I still laugh at that – especially since Reagan wore a tan suit!
      Reagan – a former actor, yet Republican darling. Oh, but now we are supposed to hate actors, right?
      I have a tough time keeping up with the changing winds of Christian support.

    2. “White Evangelicals hated and insulted him….” Wow – that is a broad brush. No they didn’t. Certainly there were those who did – but we are told to pray for our leaders (rulers) because no one sits in an office that God has not ordained.

    3. Brother Obama sure took his family church.

      Twenty years of sitting in the pews of the anti-Semite Jeremiah Wright. He was Obama’s pastor, friend, mentor, spiritual advisor — the works. He (Brother Wright) called the Jewish people “them Jews”; he called Israel an “illegal genocidal place”; he endorsed the anti-Israel march on Jerusalem called The Global March to Jerusalem.

      Obama was a great church-goer. Twenty years, coming back week after week, listening to the vile hatred of his great friend and spiritual leader, the disgusting anti-Semite Jeremiah Wright.

      1. Actually, you should consider full context here.
        Having listened to many of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons (because I do not trust only news sound bytes), I notice 2 things people twist:

        1. He said nothing different from many right-leaning pastors (Pat Robertson, et. al) who referred to 9/11 as judgment on America for our sins. I disagree with this, but don’t see why Wright was singled out.

        2. His issue with Israel was as a country, not spiritual positioning. He called out the political actions and human rights violations of leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu. We can support Israel as a Biblical nation without turning a blind eye to Palestinian genocide.

        But overall, Obama displays way more Christian character than Trump ever did. Just goes to show that sitting in “the right” church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.

        1. Here’s the context (as if it is needed):

          Wright was speaking to the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, VA, where he was attending a ministers’ conference at Hampton University when he said the following:

          “Them Jews aren’t going to let him talk to me, I told my baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office.”

          If you don’t think this remark from the Rev. Wright is anti-Semitic, then you don’t know what anti-Semitism is.

          The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) provides the definition. It is a definition adopted by 30+ countries, including the United States. In part, it says, “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

          It goes on to say that anti-Semitism is “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

          How Obama could sit in this vile, anti-Semitic “church” for twenty years in beyond me. You call that “Christian character”??

          Wright is a Jew-hater and Obama sat at his feet for twenty years. Case closed.

          1. 1. To me, context is always needed. Yes, even when Trump is meeting with white supremacists and anti-semites, I want to know full context. I know it is easy to slice and dice and make things appear different. Another example: Christians love quoting the SAME MLK quotes about “content of character over skin color” over and over (it’s a month away before we start again!); yet leave out his more radical quotes that actually confront white fragility and privilege. That changes things, huh?

            2. So yes, when I saw the SAME 10 second clips of Jeremiah Wright, I looked up the whole speech. There’s a LOT I disagree with (even theologically), but I also found a LOT of sensationlism through creative editing.

            3. And yes, I call being a man to one wife, and demonstrating compassion and empathy, and focusing on “going high when they go low” as being evident of Christian character. I can point to verses for each one.
            “Evangelicals” call Trump’s adultery, lying, race-baiting name-calling, cursing, and bullying as “him being like King Cyrus”. Trump had dinner with a white nationalist and anti-Semite, and has spoken at white nationalist rallies. Yet you’re mad about…OBAMA. Deflect much? Can you point to scriptures justifying this? Don’t be one-sided.

  5. I’ve heard people say that Trump’s presidency was God’s will.

    If so, I believe it was to show us how debased the current Christian church is today.

    If in order to bring about God’s will in America, we have to support people who lie, cheat and steal, like Donald Trump, Roy Moore and Herschel Walker, are we really doing God’s will?

    If Trump’s presidency has taught us anything, it is that the Christian right will violate nearly every Commandment for political power.

    1. Greg:

      Many evangelicals will argue trump got Roe V Wade overturned. Those he put on the Supreme Court lied about their positions on Roe. Was there no trust that God could have gotten Roe overturned without lying and cheating?

      1. Tom, I think that is the real point here.

        Look what we did to overturn Roe. We partnered with anti Semites, godless militia types and the politically corrupt to elect Trump. In God’s Providence, Antonine Scalia died in Obama’s final months in office, giving Obama the opportunity to appoint a new justice. Republicans changed the rules to prevent his appointment, claiming that the president could not make a decision clone that in an election year, giving that appointment to Trump. Four years later in God’s Providential timing, a vacancy opened in Trump’s last year, another election year. Republicans this time allowed the current president to make the appointment.

        After Trump lost the election, Christians marched on the Capitol and tried to overturn the election. Trump asked the military to seize all the voting machines and install him as President.

        In the last few days Trump has called for Kari Lake to simply be installed as governor of AZ. This afternoon Trump has called for the “termination” of all laws “including the Constitution” so he can be installed as President.

        How can anybody support all this dishonest and authoritarian lawlessness in order to make American a more Christian nation? Why can’t Christians just trust God?

  6. If Trump’s dinner with Nick Fuentes didn’t send evangelicals running for the hills, nothing will. And I don’t expect much. I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene openly spoke at an event with Nick Fuentes, and is a professed Christian nationalist, and won by a landslide.
    The lesson: Supporting white supremacy and replacement theory is NOT enough to make American Christians abandon ship. This says a lot about the nature of the American church. It’s more about reinforcing a culture than reinforcing Christ.

  7. Ye was out today praising Hitler on the Alex Jones telecast.

    Trump’s support of anti-Semites and holocaust-deniers like Fuentes and Ye is no surprise.

    Also what is is no surprise is evangelicals supporting Trump without a problem.

    Makes one wonder what evangelicals really believe, and frankly why would anybody believe what they have to say… like Jesus is the way of salvation.

  8. There have been a number of stories on this site pointing out the short comings of President Trump. Fair enough although I don’t recall seeing any that gave him credit for his accomplishments. I also do not recall seeing any stories on this site calling out President Biden so I can only assume the Roys report is supportive of his polices and his moral character. I fully support the right of the Roys report to report whichever stories they feel they would like to run but please do not ever try to tell me that this website does not have a political leaning to the left.

    1. We report on stories involving the Christian community, especially evangelicals. Had Biden gathered an evangelical following, I’m sure we’d be reporting on him. I find it odd, though, that you equate articles critical of Trump with being left leaning. I know lots of right leaning folks, myself included, who object to Trump on moral grounds.

  9. The worship and adoration of Trump by evangelicals has forever discredited their witness and the gospel. Their promotion of Trump’s lies and those of his cult pretty much makes it clear everything they say is a lie. Trying to walk it back now won’t work. For years he was King Cyrus or King David and “God’s man for a time such as this.” It’s all BS. Yes, I’m angry and cynical. At least now my eyes are open to the truth.

  10. I think the reason why everyone thinks there is a difference is because the underlying premise is wrong – that there was some sort of secret cabal of evangelicalism all in for Trump.

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