New evangelical group seeks to distance Christians from Trump

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President Obama greets Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, April 14, 2014. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
President Obama greets Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, April 14, 2014. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A collection of evangelical leaders has formed a new group to stand in contrast to conservative Christians who have endorsed Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The 13 founding members of Public Faith include Michael Wear, who was deputy director of President Obama’s White House office of faith-based initiatives during the president’s first term; Alan Noble, a conservative-leaning author and professor; the Rev. Joel Hunter, a central Florida pastor who has been a spiritual adviser to Obama; and Janet Vestal Kelly, who was a high-ranking official under former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

While the group is generally conservative on issues like abortion and gay marriage, it is progressive on race, poverty, climate change and social justice.

In its mission statement, the group explicitly criticizes the combative approach taken by conservative Christian leaders like Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. toward those who disagree with them. Earlier this month, Falwell wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he scolded the GOP nominee’s critics for “whining about Trump’s temperament.”

“While we are grateful for the work many Christian political institutions have done, we believe that a traditional ‘culture war’ strategy often leads to bad policies, damaged witnesses, and compromised beliefs,” Public Faith says on its website, which was set to be unveiled Monday. “Instead, we seek to support a just and flourishing society using the wisdom of biblical truths, Christian tradition, natural law, and the best of political thought.”

The group’s vision statement clearly addresses evangelical Christians who find themselves unable to support either Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“We know that there may be candidates for specific political offices for whom as a matter of conscience, we cannot support with our vote,” the group said. “Even if some of us cannot choose one candidate for a specific office, we commit to participating as citizens by voting on Election Day, recognizing that there are many political offices and other matters on our ballots that are of tremendous importance to seeing the above named commitments enacted.”

On specific policy matters, Public Faith condemns “the persistence of racial injustice” in the U.S. and advocates for rights of conscience for evangelicals who oppose gay marriage. The group argues for the importance of fighting poverty, and it describes abortion as a “tragedy.”

“We believe that abortion must be opposed holistically, from the economic patterns that often drive the practice to the societal values that justify it. This includes caring for mothers throughout motherhood, advocating for adoption, and other policies that treat mothers, babies, and other family members as those made in the image of God,” the group says.

Public Faith’s ambitions are unclear, although the founders sketch out future possibilities. “While our immediate purpose is to provide a platform for evangelicals to publicly voice their political views, we are interested in developing into a robust institution that produces political commentary, panels and conventions,” they said.

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