Many Americans were shocked and offended on Oct. 7 by the release of a 2005 recording of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bragging about how he groped women's genitals and kissed them without their consent, but several Christian leaders stood by Trump.
Ralph Reed, a Christian activist who leads Trump's religious advisory board, said in an email to The Washington Post how he was disappointed by Trump's "inappropriate" comments, but added:
But people of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal ...
I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns.
A 1998 New York Times piece said that the scandal involving then-President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky was viewed by the now-defunct Christian Coalition as "the ultimate evidence that Washington was in need of a restoration of 'family values,'"
"Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message," Reed said to the Times. "We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character."
As Trump did in his apology over the sex tape, evangelist Franklin Graham tried to create an equivalency between Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama whom he described as "godless." On Oct. 8, Graham posted on Facebook:
The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended. But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended. I am not endorsing any candidates in this election. I have said it throughout this presidential campaign, and I will say it again -- both candidates are flawed.
The evangelist's organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, received a $100,000 contribution from the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2012.
According to The Washington Post, Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas tweeted (and deleted): “BREAKING: Trump caught using foul language, combing his hair oddly. Could this be the end of his campaign?"
Pastor Robert Jeffress, who is part of Trump’s Faith Advisory Council and leads the First Baptist Church in Dallas, told the newspaper via email that Trump is "still the best candidate to reverse the downward spiral this nation is in."
"While the comments are lewd, offensive, and indefensible … they are not enough to make me vote for Hillary Clinton," Jeffress added.
The pastor, who has attended Trump rallies, said that he would "not necessarily choose Donald Trump to be a Sunday School teacher."
As Trump and Graham did, Jeffress then linked Trump's personal behavior to Clinton: "To say Trump’s comments disqualify him from being president assumes that Hillary Clinton is more moral than Donald Trump."
David Brody, a reporter with Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network tweeted, "This just in: Donald Trump is a flawed man! We ALL sin every single day. What if we had a 'hot mic' around each one of us all the time?"
Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, told The Washington Post: "As I have made clear, my support for Donald Trump in the general election was never based upon shared values rather it was built upon shared concerns."
Some Christians did slam Trump for his comments, including Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and author Rachel Held Evans who tweeted: "Evangelicals, misogyny is wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Calling women 'bitches' & 'pieces of ass' is wrong. SAY SO."
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Oct. 10 (taken after the sex assault remarks by Trump) found Clinton at 46 points, and Trump at 35 points.