Mulligan Controversy Reminds Us: Condemn Sin First, Defend Your Voting Choice Later

When more of Trump's immoral behavior comes to light, many evangelicals seem more eager to defend him than preach the Bible.

By Liberty McArtor Published on January 28, 2018

Everyone’s heard of Stephanie Clifford (alias Stormy Daniels). And many have heard Tony Perkins’ “mulligan” comment. Clifford is the porn star who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump several years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2016, Trump’s attorney arranged for her to be paid in exchange for her silence. Trump denies the allegations. Clifford does too — now.

When asked about this Tuesday in an interview with Politico, Perkins said, “We kind of gave him — ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.'” Perkins is the president of the Christian conservative organization Family Research Council.

Many conservative Christians were quick to criticize Perkins. Tyler O’Neil at the conservative PJ Media wrote an article headlined, “Note to Tony Perkins: Evangelicals Can Defend Trump Policies AND Condemn the Stormy Daniels Affair.” “The president’s policies do not give him carte blanche in his personal life,” O’Neil argued. 


On Thursday, Perkins addressed the issue in a column we published here at The Stream. His words lent much needed clarification to his earlier comments. “Adultery was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Perkins wrote.

If the rumors turn out to be true, then that behavior is unconscionable. No question. Where wrongdoing is brought to light, it is exactly that: wrongdoing. … I’m not saying his performance as president can buy him grace — only Christ can do that. And while evangelicals can give him a mulligan regarding their political support, only through repentance and God’s forgiveness can he have a totally new start.

I’m glad Perkins clarified his position. Still, his first response lingers in the air. It gave some people — including some fellow evangelicals — the impression that he was shrugging his shoulders at the president’s behavior. 

What I Wish Perkins Had Said From the Start

Whenever the mainstream media get hold of past Trump scandals, evangelical supporters know they’ll be accused of hypocrisy. It plays out so often, though, they tend to roll their eyes. They’ve already said they don’t approve of Trump’s past lifestyle. They’ve already explained why they choose to support him politically anyway. As Dr. Michael Brown wrote Wednesday, “We know the man we voted for.”

So when challenged yet again, they find it easy to get defensive.

This can lead many evangelicals to hesitate to denounce Trump’s behavior. Or to brush it aside. “That was then, this is now,” they argue; then they cite Trump’s conservative political accomplishments. To the outside world, this looks as if they’ve reneged on the values they long preached.

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To be fair, Perkins told CNN that evangelical support would be “gone” if Trump engaged in such behavior today. But even with that caveat, he still spent energy defending Trump. He should have spent it defending marriage first. He might have said something like this:

We can’t know for sure if the allegations are true. But if they are, they are very serious indeed. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the spiritual significance of marital fidelity, and condemns adultery. Plus, we know that faithful marriages lead to stable families. Adultery leads to fractured families and communities. We pray that if these allegations are true, President Trump has completely rejected such behavior. We pray he has asked God and his family for forgiveness. And we pray that his family will heal.

Still the question will inevitably follow: Why still support Trump? 

Having made clear their belief in marriage, evangelicals can go ahead and explain their reasons. They can list policies that promote the common good. They can refer to the ways his administration has defended Christians. Having done that, evangelicals can then call on Trump to exemplify better behavior going forward. 

The Initial Quotes Stick

Will some still people call pro-Trump evangelicals hypocrites? Sure. But at least evangelicals will have taken the opportunity to affirm biblical teachings; to acknowledge the gravity of the alleged sins. That would encourage many.

Again, I’m glad Perkins clarified his remarks. Had he led with these claims, the backlash might not have been as severe. But the initial quotes are what has stuck.

When more of Trump’s immoral behavior comes to light, do not appear more eager to run back to your defenses than to explain biblical principles.

Of course we must consider the possibility that Perkins did lead with a statement like the one I suggested above, or the one in his column. It could be that Politico writer Edward-Isaac Dovere cut it. That kind of media bias can’t always be helped. But that very bias should remind us how important it is to emphasize what really matters when we’re given the platform. Biblical truths come before political defenses.

Care Less About Defending Trump, More About Preaching God’s Word

So evangelical Trump supporters, consider how your words come across. Especially in your initial reactions to new revelations about our president.

If and when more of Trump’s immoral behavior comes to light, don’t appear more eager to run back to your defenses than to explain biblical principles. Don’t cite forgiveness without acknowledging that what Trump did or allegedly did was indeed wrong. Don’t pass up chances to assure onlookers that yes, “family values” still matter.

The world will always name-call evangelicals whatever we do. So let’s care less about defending our support of Trump when his actions are indefensible. Let’s care more about taking every chance to preach the Word of God. Even when that opportunity comes through an alleged affair between a porn star and the president.

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