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Evangelicals And Kavanaugh

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's a question we've asked again and again of the evangelical community, but it seems especially important to pose it now as confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are set to begin this week. How does a deeply religious group of people continue to support a president who has repeatedly acted in ways they consider immoral? Karen Swallow Prior has thought a lot about this. She's a professor at Liberty University. That's the evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell. She's an evangelical Christian herself. And she joins us now by Skype. Welcome to the program.

KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR: Hello, Melissa. Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: How important would you say Brett Kavanaugh's nomination is for the evangelical community?

PRIOR: It's very important. It is, of course, the reason why so many evangelicals supported Trump in the presidential election. We do see what happens on the Supreme Court as very important to the cultural mood, to the laws that end up being enacted and enforced.

BLOCK: Are you convinced, when you think about what you know about Judge Kavanaugh, that he would be a vote on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade?

PRIOR: We believe Kavanagh is a strict constructionist and an originalist. We believe that he will interpret the Constitution more faithfully than activist judges in the past. And so yes, that does give us some confidence that he would uphold the dignity of human life - of all human life.

BLOCK: I understand you did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. You voted for a third-party candidate, Evan McMullin. Why didn't Donald Trump get your vote? What was concerning to you?

PRIOR: Well, Donald Trump's character and his behavior was something that I could not support.

BLOCK: What in particular were you worried about?

PRIOR: Well, of course, I'm worried about his treatment of women in the past. And that was a concern, quite frankly, that I had about Clinton, about her enabling sexual abuse and misogyny. So I hope that in elections going forward, we will find better candidates.

BLOCK: When you think about the president's divisive rhetoric, his insults, his administration's policy of family separation at the border, not to mention what we know now about hush money payments to cover up alleged affairs, why aren't we hearing more criticism from evangelical leaders? And would you want them to be speaking up more than they are?

PRIOR: Well, the evangelical leaders that I know that have access to the president tell me that they are speaking to him about these things in private. I actually personally have decided not to offer a lot of public criticism. I think that criticizing every little thing just causes further entrenchment. And we need to save those criticisms for the big things like the family separation. And the fact is that evangelicals led the charge with many others against that policy, and Trump did move on it. I mean, it's not enough. But evangelicals helped put pressure on, and he did respond.

BLOCK: I mentioned that you teach at Liberty University, an evangelical school. What are you hearing from your students about President Trump and their values?

PRIOR: They've lost faith in politics and the political process, and that's not necessarily bad news. I mean, I was raised and came of age in the culture wars of a few decades ago and trying to take back our culture from progressives and liberals. And I put a lot of faith myself in the political process. And I'm actually learning from my students and from their disenchantment that that probably backfired. And politics is important. And political engagement is important. But there's so much more that is central to changing people's lives and spreading the gospel than politics.

BLOCK: That's Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University. She's also the author of "On Reading Well: Finding The Good Life Through Great Books." Professor Prior, thanks so much for talking to us.

PRIOR: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.