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‘I took a gamble’: Evangelical leader who backed Trump in 2016 switches sides ahead of US election

by Kelly Valencia

Former US megachurch leader and Republican, Dr Joel Hunter is voting Democrat for the first time.

Speaking to Premier, the 77-year-old pastor explained why he has decided to not support President Donald Trump. 

Dr Hunter believes this is “is a key moment” in US history and as a result has made a decision that is uncomfortable but necessary.

“I'm coming out at this time in this election because four more years of a signal from the White House that says: “Only our group is important, only our nation is important, only people who think like us, are right and everybody else is a crook” is going to continue to not only divide our nation but weaponise our rhetoric.”

A new study by LifeWay Research has found that 32 per cent of Evangelical pastors say they have endorsed political candidates outside of their church role, 10 per cent more than the 2016 elections. 

It is the first time Dr Hunter is publicly endorsing a presidential candidate. In 2016 he voted for President Donald Trump, who at the time he thought was just “a little rough around the edges”.

“I got family like that. I got drunk uncles like that…I took a gamble because I didn't know much about him…but then I got into it [and] I realised there's no coalition building here. There's nothing that can solve the problems that all of us are facing.”

Dr Hunter has joined Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden, a campaign group that advocates that Joe Biden’s policies pursue a “more biblically shaped life than those of Donald Trump”. Members include Billy Graham's granddaughter Jerushah Duford, and other well-known US evangelicals. 

Although he remains strongly anti-abortionist, Dr Hunter has come to recognise that the Republican party in its current form is not addressing those things that endanger life outside the womb.

“Things like access to health care, and other things that threaten life. We believe those lives are just as important to God as the lives inside the womb. We think that Mr Biden would pay attention to those social programs that give women and others the support and the resources they need.”

Once Spiritual Advisor to former President Barack Obama during his eight years in government, Dr Hunter believes the Democratic Party has been perceived as more hostile towards the public expression of religion. 

“There's a great deal of paranoia over here among the evangelical community, that if the Democrats get back in, they're going to expunge religious expression from the public square, which is not realistic.”

If Joe Biden gets elected, Dr Hunter believes there will be at least “some mitigation of that trend of polarization.” He thinks Biden will have a less authoritarian approach to governing. 

“I believe, he will cobble together, teams of people who not only can cooperate, even though they disagree but who actually know what they're doing, they will have a level of expertise that we have not seen in a while in order to solve things.”

Dr Hunter also urged Christians to pray that people in the US might see each other with the same love that God sees us. 

“Just pray for a spirit of discernment. Pray for a spirit of respect and love. I just don't think that we have come so far, that we don't at least want to become civil and respectful and recognize the image of God and each person. And so just keep praying for us, pray for our souls, that we could see each other as people.”

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