- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bishop Patrick Lane Wooden Sr. is not sure whether Donald Trump supports North Carolina’s “bathroom law” requiring transgender residents to use the facilities of the sex they were assigned at birth, but he knows Hillary Clinton opposes the law — and that’s good enough for him to roll the dice with the presumptive Republican nominee.

Mr. Wooden is one of a number of evangelical voters grappling with a tricky choice in this year’s election. Some social conservatives say they need to see more from Mr. Trump before they are comfortable with him, but others — echoing the views of many Republicans nationwide — say the choice has been made for them.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, there is a large degree of trepidation, but what makes Donald Trump look good to me is Hillary Clinton,” said Mr. Wooden, who leads a church in Raleigh.

In a major test of his ability to attract evangelical votes in November, Mr. Trump is scheduled to address conservative Christian voters Friday in a speech to Faith and Freedom’s Road to Majority conference in Washington.

Later this month, he will meet with leaders of the religious right in New York City.

Lacking a policy background on the issues they care about, Mr. Trump can only point to who’s standing on the other side: presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly answered all of those questions with a long and liberal record.

“In this [race], you have an unknown, really, from a political perspective, because Donald Trump has not held political office, who has changed some positions, some on the fly, versus a known leftist, a self-proclaimed progressive,” Mr. Wooden said. “So I know what she is going to do and what her positions will be.”

Religious conservatives and pro-life activists make up a large portion of the Republican Party’s base and provide ground troops who knock on doors, drop leaflets and do other activities that help turn out voters on Election Day.

Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Mr. Trump has built some post-primary momentum with evangelical voters after aligning himself with the faith-based community on cultural and moral issues.

“He is pro-life. He says he is against federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” Mr. Reed said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday. “He is on record in support of traditional marriage. He opposes the Iran nuclear deal. He is strongly pro-Israel.”

But some Christian leaders, including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have likened Mr. Trump to “reality television moral sewage” and warned conservatives against embracing him.

“My primary prayer for Donald Trump is that he would first of all repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ,” Mr. Moore said last week. “That is my prayer for any lost person.”

Wait and see

Still others, including Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and Robert Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Republican primaries, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I do think there is some cause for pause,” Mr. Vander Plaats told The Washington Times. “I think fundamentally it boils down to this: Can we trust Donald Trump as President Trump to lead with a principled conservative vision for this country?”

To be sure, there is no groundswell of support among religious conservative leaders for Mrs. Clinton. Instead, the choice appears to be whether the leaders will accept a Republican defeat that leaves them with clean hands or lend a hand to a candidate who makes them uncomfortable.

“Too often, we are hearing he is better than Hillary and, while that may be so, that is just too low of a bar,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “We would like to have a president who is a champion for American families and someone who will surround himself with great, talented, principled conservatives.”

Mr. Trump’s appearance at the Faith and Freedom event will be his first before a gathering of Christian activists since he clinched enough delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination last month. He defeated 16 other candidates, including a former Baptist preacher and a couple of sons of pastors.

Along the way, the twice-divorced Mr. Trump acknowledged that he has never asked for forgiveness from God and flubbed a Bible reference during an appearance at Liberty University. He also sent mixed signals on gay rights issues and struggled at times to defend his evolving stance on abortion.

But he took a major step toward easing social conservative concerns last month when he released a well-received list of potential Supreme Court nominees, laden with judges who are considered to be pro-life.

Christian leaders say Mr. Trump could score points by making smart picks for his running mate and for Cabinet positions.

Mr. Reed also said this week that Mr. Trump has a chance to win people of faith — particularly evangelicals — because they like conversion stories and the New York billionaire seems to fit the bill based on what he has said.

Evangelicals “are already pre-qualified by temperament and theology to accept a convert,” Mr. Reed said. “So when someone comes forward and says, ‘I used to be this and now I am that,’ they don’t turn him away. They embrace them.”

Tamara Scott, a member of the Republican National Committee from Iowa, said, “Like all of us, Donald Trump has room to grow in his relationship with Christ, and I pray he does.

“Sure, there are unknowns with Trump, but we know with Hillary’s dishonesty and dereliction of duty that demise and destruction are certain,” Mrs. Scott said.

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