The mental gymnastics involved in how people of faith justify supporting President Donald Trump has always been a source of consternation, not only for nonbelievers, but also for many Christians and followers of other religions.
Trump won the 2016 election with 80% of the white evangelical vote. But support for the president among evangelicals is dropping. According to the Associated Press, the percentage of evangelicals who approve of his job performance is now at 61%, down from 78% shortly after he took office.
Still, this is a pretty significant number of evangelicals who continue to back him. In light of the most recent scandals involving the president, including his racist “shithole” comments about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, and revelations that he allegedly paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn star to keep quiet about their past sexual relationship, one has to wonder what evangelicals could possibly say next to justify supporting such an immoral and godless man.
The question isn’t a trivial one, because as AP notes, even conservative Christians are now bitterly divided over Trump’s vulgar and reckless behavior. Many African immigrants have joined evangelical congregations in the U.S., and Trump’s unfettered racist behavior, and particularly his “shithole” comment, has angered them, causing some to dump Trump.
But if you’re wondering what the game plan is for those who don’t want to give up on their feckless leader, look no further than South Carolina pastor Mark Burns, a member of the Donald Trump Evangelical Advisory Council and co-founder of the NOW Television Network.
Burns has been making the rounds on TV news talk shows lately using arcane Bible verses to justify the “shithole” comment. One of his favorites is I Timothy 5:8, which states, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The theory here—and it is a weak one—is that Christians are incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Having compassion for people in need from other countries and for those at home, according to the pastor, is mutually exclusive.
Burns proffered the same argument during an appearance Saturday on MSNBC’s AM Joy with Joy Reid. Before the biblical citation, however, Burns followed another strategy of Trump supporters by trying to deny the president had even made the “shithole” comment in the first place.
After Reid repeatedly shot down that claim, she offered a biblical passage of her own: Isaiah 10:1–2, which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”
This brings us to part three of the strategy, which is deflect, dodge, and distract, or simply talk over the show’s host until either the segment ends or you get kicked off the show—which is exactly what happened.
After repeatedly trying to ask Burns—who wouldn’t stop talking—a question, Reid finally gave up.
“I’m going to give you one more chance to answer my question and then you’re going to be done here, because you’re actually wasting my time when you talk over me,” Reid said.
“Joy,” Burns interjected, “you’re wasting my time when you’re not talking about Americans.”
“Oh, well then if I’m wasting your time, then goodbye,” Reid said, abruptly ending the segment.
Pastor Burns then got into a car provided to him by the show and recorded a 14–minute breathless rant, which he posted to Twitter, urging Reid to “moved back to #Haiti since she cares more for Haitians than Black Americans here in Poverty…”
This is another popular strategy to deflect from Trump’s racist “shithole” comment: Tell critics to move to another country or tell immigrants to “go back home and fix your own problems.”
Reid wasn’t having that, either. After Burns’ rant, the MSNBC host went back on air to school the evangelical pastor once again with yet another Bible verse and a history lesson about Haiti.
“Pastor Burns, I hope that you will open your heart to the people of this world, to the people of this country, and do your duty as a Christian to love your neighbor as yourself,” she said.