I’m an atheist now but as a young Catholic I was taught that God would forgive any sin if the sinner felt genuine remorse and affirmatively sought forgiveness. We were taught to emulate God as best we could in that regard. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone; if your fellow sinner has done wrong but repents sincerely, forgive. That’s redemption — not the same thing as a “mulligan” or do-over, but close enough, I guess. A man who grieves over the harm he’s done and seeks absolution for it will always receive it from God and, ideally, forgiveness from his fellow believers.
But what if that man doesn’t grieve over the harms he’s done? What if he’s even told people that he’s not sure if he ever asked God for forgiveness?
What does a Christian owe a sinner who’s not sorry?
Perkins knows about Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who claimed, in a 2011 interview, that in 2006 she had sex with Trump four months after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron. He knows of the reports that Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) was paid off to keep the affair quiet in the waning weeks of the 2016 election. He knows about the cursing, the lewdness and the litany of questionable behavior over the past year of Trump’s life or the 70 that came before it.
“We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,’” Perkins told me in an interview for the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast.
There are a lot of ways to handle a question about Trump’s past while staying on firm-ish theological ground. “I don’t believe Stormy Daniels.” “Judge not lest ye be judged.” “The president doesn’t owe me anything, only God and the people he’s wronged.” “I know for a fact that he’s since repented of his sins and sought absolution.” Instead Perkins farts out something about a “mulligan,” which sounds less like “forgiveness” and more like a “free pass.” Or an indulgence, if you prefer that term, since what else is this except purchasing tolerance of sin with worldly favors?
Politico pressed him to elaborate. Quote:
Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”
What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.
“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”
As Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek. But if you get slapped again, go for the throat.” I can’t understand why evangelical leaders have so much trouble admitting that this question is complicated for them because they like Trump’s policies but disdain his personal behavior as immoral. Perkins could just say something about how the president’s a highly imperfect man, to put it mildly, but his judicial appointments, his pro-life stance, and his moves to protect religious liberty are all major improvements over Democratic policies for which Christians are grateful. He could even admit the uncomfortable truth that evangelicals (at least the prominent ones) have abandoned their Clinton-era view that moral character is a key litmus test for a national leader. The strange case of Donald Trump has led them to behave more like the average American voter, who may cringe at his political leader’s peccadilloes but is willing to stomach them if he can deliver on policy. We didn’t vote for pope in 2016, we voted for president. Instead Perkins is reduced to babbling about how many times Christians should turn the other cheek politically before they come out of the corner swinging. For fark’s sake, shill for Trump if you must but keep his fingerprints off the gospels.
Actually, I do understand why Perkins is unwilling to draw a clear Trump-bad/Trump-policies-good distinction. It’s not just idolatry in service to POTUS’s cult of personality; there are worse offenders among the evangelical elite in that regard, starting with the embarrassing Robert Jeffress. I think Perkins is worried that if he were to suggest that Trump is a man of low character, however obviously true that is, he’d be frozen out of any relationship with the White House even if he continued to praise Trump for his policies. POTUS seems to have each of the seven deadly sins pretty well covered but his big one is pride, and Perkins publicly fretting over his character would be a serious blow to that pride. So instead he mumbles something about “mulligans” and moves on, hoping to protect his seat at the table of influential Christian leaders. Which is his own sin of pride, ironically. But what does an atheist know, right? Who are you going to trust, a heathen or a Christian warrior handing out indulgences like candy so long as your Fifth Circuit nominee is solidly against ObamaCare’s contraception mandate?
In lieu of an exit question, here’s Franklin Graham on MSNBC a few days ago being asked about Stormy Daniels as well. Graham’s answers are better and wide-ranging: Trump’s not perfect, he allows; I pray for him as I prayed for Obama; I think he’s had a change of heart about his personal behavior in the last few years; and finally, why should I believe Daniels when the president has never lied to me? If you can’t trust Donald Trump, who can you trust?