Donald Trump's 'evangelical moment' during acceptance speech included this vow

Posted July 28

It's no secret that Donald Trump's run for the White House has firmly divided some leaders in the evangelical community, with prominent Christian voices doubling down on their stances for — and against — the businessman.

Amid the ongoing debate, though, Trump, who has openly courted evangelicals in recent months, notably thanked them for their support during his Republican National Convention address last Thursday night.

It was a moment of humility that caught some critics off guard, especially considering Trump's admission that he might not be too deserving of their support.

"At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community, because I will tell you what, the support they have given — and I'm not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing," Trump said to applause. "And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight."

It's interesting to note that the line about potentially not deserving evangelical support was not in an earlier draft of the speech that leaked online.

But Trump wasn't done there. The Republican businessman added that evangelicals "have much to contribute to our politics," and used the opportunity as a foray into a tax code proposal: the repeal of the so-called Johnson Amendment.

"Our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits," Trump said, addressing evangelicals. "An amendment pushed by Lyndon Johnson many years ago threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views. Their voice has been taken away."

He then pledged to work fervently to try to repeal the Johnson Amendment.

As the Deseret News previously reported in detail, this amendment is a controversial Internal Revenue Service regulation that has come under fire from churches and religious freedom advocates in recent years.

The little-known tax provision applies exclusively to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, precluding them from endorsing — or campaigning against — candidates for federal elected office.

The rationale behind the Johnson Amendment is that nonprofit organizations and churches are exempt from paying certain taxes and, therefore, should not be permitted to show power or sway in the election of candidates.

But many Republicans and conservatives have long held that the amendment, which was authored by then-Texas Democratic Sen. Lyndon Johnson, unfairly constrains churches' First Amendment rights, a claim laid out in the 2016 GOP platform.

"Republicans believe the federal government, specifically the IRS, is constitutionally prohibited from policing or censoring speech based on religious convictions or beliefs, and therefore we urge the repeal of the Johnson Amendment," the platform reads. "We pledge to … safeguard religious institutions against government control."

Trump's most recent comments on Thursday night reaffirm that language as well as his pledge to try to strike it down. But not everyone agrees that the Johnson Amendment is a poor policy, with some saying that it actually protects taxpayers.

"Claims that there exists a ban on political activity by churches and faith leaders are simply false," said Michael De Dora, director of public policy for the Center for Inquiry — a group that works to foster secularism in society. "The Johnson Amendment does not prohibit political activity by churches and faith leaders. It prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including both houses of worship and nonprofit organizations, from directly or indirectly endorsing or opposing political candidates."

The Johnson Amendment aside, the debate among faith leaders is likely to continue. While Christian psychologist James Dobson endorsed Trump this week, others, like Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have repeatedly made known their deep opposition to the Republican businessman.

“What we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon … is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem,” Moore said during an interview with "Face the Nation" earlier this year. "And conservatives who previously said we have too much awful cultural rot on television now want to put it on C-SPAN for the next four years … with either [Trump or Hillary Clinton]."

Additional controversy broke out earlier this month after Dobson proclaimed during a radio interview that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has accepted "a relationship with" Jesus.

The proclamation created contention among evangelicals who have questioned whether Trump's Christian faith — based on his oft-times controversial statements and tactics — is genuine.

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