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Conservative Christian leaders call on Trump to condemn white nationalists

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A multiracial group of prominent Christian leaders — including many evangelicals and theological conservatives — are calling on President Donald Trump to condemn white nationalists in a new letter, saying the hateful movement has “escaped [his] disapproval.”

According to a letter acquired by CNN, a group of nearly 40 religious leaders signed onto a draft statement calling on Trump to condemn what they call the “alt-right movement,” a term used for white supremacy and white nationalism.

“We respectfully call upon you to respond to the [joint resolution condemning white supremacy] by speaking out against the alt-right movement,” the letter read in part. “This movement has escaped your disapproval. We believe it is important for this movement to be addressed, for at its core it is a white identity movement and the majority of its members are white nationalists or white supremacists. This movement gained public prominence during your candidacy for President of the United States. Supporters of the movement have claimed that you share their vision for our country.”

“This [white supremacist] movement has escaped your disapproval…Supporters of the movement have claimed that you share their vision for our country.”

The letter also noted White House staffers who have been accused of affiliating with white nationalism, noting, “It concerned many of us when three people associated with the alt-right movement were given jobs in the White House.”

Signers included many African American faith leaders that operate in conservative circles, such as Dwight McKissic, a Southern Baptist minister who made national headlines when he pushed his denomination to condemn white nationalists earlier this year; T.D. Jakes, a megapastor and mentor of presidential faith adviser Paula White; and Jemar Tisby, President of Reformed African American Network.

Tisby told ThinkProgress that while Trump has made infrequent attempts to condemn racism broadly, signers felt it was important to condemn white nationalists and their movements specifically.

“The president has repeatedly failed to swiftly and decisively condemn racism in its various forms,” Tisby said. “After great public outcry, he did sign a resolution earlier this month rejecting ‘white nationalists, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups.’ This letter, though, specifically calls for his vocal condemnation of the ‘alt-right.’ Given parts of his base and even those whom he has employed in the White House, we felt it was important for him to denounce the alt-right by name.”

CNN reported another notable faith leader—Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference—also signed the letter. Rodriguez has been named as a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, and was reportedly influential in pushing the president to include a six-month delay on parts of his decision to end a program that offered work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Other signatories included prominent white evangelicals, such as Dr. Danny Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, an evangelical college; and Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s political arm and an outspoken critic of Trump during the campaign.

The effort is by no means the first instance of faith leaders asking Trump to decry hatred. Thousands of clergymembers descended on Washington, D.C. last month to condemn both racism and the president, and Religious Left leaders have been vocal about Trump’s issues with race for some time. Progressive people of faith also stared down white nationalists during the harrowing protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead, after which Trump repeatedly insisted “both sides” were to blame for violence.

But the letter is unusual in that so many of its signers are conservative or hail from conservative faith traditions — a group that has been more reticent to criticize the president.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board largely refused to abandon him, with most either defending the president or refusing to criticize him openly for his “both sides” comments. Only one member of the board, African American megapastor A.R. Bernard of New York, resigned from his advisory position over the controversy.

Meanwhile, other members of the board such as Paula White and Texas pastor Robert Jeffress have insisted that Trump is not racist. Jeffress also defended Trump’s recent calls for NFL players that kneel during the national anthem to be fired: although players explicitly say they are protesting racial inequality, Jeffress repeated Trump’s claim that the controversy “has nothing to do with race.”

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