Trump tape reveals religious right hypocrisy

Story highlights

  • Rev. William Barber: I am deeply disturbed by the hypocrisy of the outrage at Trump's comments on sexual assault
  • Donald Trump tapes have exposed the hypocrisy at the heart of the religious right, he says

The Rev. William J. Barber II, a Protestant minister, is president of the North Carolina NAACP, president of Repairers of the Breach, a progressive ecumenical organization, and founder of Moral Mondays, a grass-roots movement for racial and economic justice. He is the author of "The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The second presidential debate was overshadowed this weekend by the release of a 2005 videotape in which Donald Trump bragged about being famous enough to get away with sexual assault. Pressed by moderator Anderson Cooper during the debate, Trump said he was not proud of his words, but dismissed them as "locker room talk" before trying to pivot to a discussion of ISIS.

While many Republican Party insiders have calculated that it's too late to get off the Trump train, a line-up of so-called "Christian conservatives" -- a crucial base of support for Trump in every national poll -- stepped forward this weekend to say they can no longer support candidate Trump. "I cannot commend Trump's moral character," evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem wrote, withdrawing his endorsement of the Republican candidate.
    William Barber
    As an evangelical Christian, I am deeply disturbed by the hypocrisy of the outrage at Trump's comments on sexual assault. Yes, it is outrageous for anyone to talk the way he did about another human being. But the violence of the Trump tape isn't new. What's new is that the woman he was talking about looks like the wives and daughters of the white men who've rallied the religious right behind Donald Trump.
    When Trump promised a wall to keep out Mexicans, many who are now "outraged" cheered him on. When he pledged to ban all Muslims from traveling to America, they celebrated his defense of "religious freedom." When he supported voter suppression laws that sought to abridge the right to vote for African-Americans, Latinos and poor people, they stood with him. When he announced that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move that would devastate the lives of many poor working women and men, they endorsed him. When he said he did not support making the minimum wage a living wage, they lifted him up as what America needed. When he announced an economic plan that would take us back into recession, hurting many working families, they declared him the one for the country. When he unashamedly vowed to block gun laws that would help keep assault weapons off the street, they applauded him. And when Trump mocked women, people with disabilities, and his political opponents, the religious right stood by their man.
    But now he has gone too far?
    This hypocritical outrage exposes the deep fears at the heart of religious support for Trump. From James Dobson to Jerry Falwell to Eric Metaxas, Trump's most ardent religious apologists have cited "religious liberty" as a key reason for backing a candidate of questionable character. Sure, he is a "baby Christian," Dobson admits. But he has embraced a definition of religious liberty peculiarly obsessed with sex.
    In this campaign season, the religious right's traditional issue of abortion has gotten little air time. (When asked about Supreme Court nominees Sunday night, Trump didn't mention Roe v. Wade.) Trump has a long record of supporting the right to abortion, so his embrace of a "pro-life" platform in an apparent effort to secure the nomination of the Republican party has been dubious, at best. Rather than dwell on issues of life, which have persisted for decades despite Republican presidents and majorities in both houses of Congress and on the Supreme Court, the religious right has focused its energies on religious freedom -- only the freedom to practice one's religion has been limited to issues of sexuality.
    Four hundred years ago, when Puritans, Quakers, Moravians and Catholics fled Europe to practice their faith in this new land, their religious concerns varied. But whatever their group's concern, they wanted religious freedom to keep the government from telling them what they had to believe or how they had to practice their belief.
    Today's religious freedom advocates want just the opposite. An obsession with sex has compelled them to turn the very definition of religious freedom against itself. In the name of their religious convictions, they have supported candidates who promise to oppose civil marriage for gay people, to allow discrimination in business based on sexuality, and to prohibit transgender neighbors access to public accommodations. They embraced Trump because he was willing to endorse this violent imposition of their religious convictions on all Americans.
    These same people, however, cannot stomach the fact that Trump has talked about violently imposing his own desires on women like their wives and daughters. They are right, of course, to stand up and say Trump cannot be allowed the power of the presidency. But it is little comfort to hear them suggesting that a more "reasonable" person should stand in his place to implement policies that exert violence against poor women of color, women without access to health care, and women who happened to be born somewhere else.
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    It is, indeed, a peculiar ethic that can only express outrage when violence threatens those closest to us. If nothing else, the Trump tapes have exposed the hypocrisy at the heart of the religious right. Those who are outraged should search their own hearts for a humility that can lead to genuine conversion.