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Apopka preacher Paula White and presidential nominee Donald Trump are a match made in alt-right heaven 

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  • image via Paula White-Cain on Facebook
So far, Paula White is determined to stand by her man, despite the recent cascade of charges of sexual harassment against Trump. And she is not alone. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute, released Oct. 11, found that 65 percent of white evangelicals continue to support Trump, although there has been some recent erosion among women. A Pew Center survey released in July found that three-fourths of white evangelical Protestants who attend church weekly were leaning toward Trump, a greater margin than those who supported Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. This demographic is crucial to any waning chance Trump has of capturing the White House. But many tell pollsters that they're not exactly enamored with Trump; rather, they just really hate Clinton.

Or maybe there's something else, perhaps something more worldly, at play: "I continue to be disappointed that evangelicals hitch themselves to Trump's wagon," says evangelical author and motivational speaker Rusty Wright. "I wonder if it's power they are after."

Richard Cizik, former executive vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, agrees. "Evangelicals who for 50 years have said 'character matters,' now are saying by their endorsement of Trump, 'never mind.'"

Indeed, a number of younger, more centrist evangelical leaders are not supporting the Republican nominee, in part because of his truculent statements on immigrants and immigration policy, which have offended Hispanic and African-American evangelicals. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll found that Latino voters back Clinton over Trump by a 76-14 margin, and the same poll found that 82 percent of Latino voters have a negative view of Trump. A survey released Oct. 14 by LifeWay Resources, a respected Christian polling group, reported that "African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian-Americans with evangelical beliefs support Clinton (62 percent) over Trump (15 percent)."

Well before the release of the infamous Access Hollywood recording, the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a pastor at Orlando's Iglesia El Calvario and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, joined 74 of the organization's leaders in denouncing Trump's "xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric." In particular, Trump's disparaging comments about immigrants and Hispanics generally were doubly offensive to Salguero. 

While Salguero, like other Hispanic evangelicals, disagrees with some of Clinton's views on social issues like abortion and has not endorsed her or any candidates, he says, "I cannot in good conscience endorse Trump." 

Last Sunday, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke in Spanish to the Pneuma Church in West Kendall in South Florida, urging Hispanic evangelicals to vote.

National polls also indicate that Trump has the support of less than 1 percent of African-American voters. So the paradox is that, however much White may be able to influence white evangelicals across the country to back Trump, it is highly unlikely that many of her African-American and Hispanic parishioners at New Destiny will follow her.

Although many evangelical pastors and leaders have lined up on one side or another, some see Trump as the third rail of Christian politics, with no upside in taking a position.

"Years ago, in my doctoral work, I spent a year working in an 'insane asylum,' as we called them back then," says the Rev. Joel Hunter, of Northland, a Church Distributed, in Longwood. "I learned then not to try to make sense of completely crazy. Never has that lesson been as valuable as in this year's election."

According to the same PRRI study, white mainline Christians are split 42-42 between Trump and Clinton. There is some irony to this divide, given that Trump was raised as a Presbyterian, a mainline denomination, and attended Marble Collegiate Church, a traditional Manhattan congregation, where at least one of his weddings took place.

Various church leaders, from Trump's denomination and others, have criticized him. An April letter from a group of high-profile North American Christian leaders declared that Trump's campaign statements were "contrary to our Christian values" and "racist, bigoted and hateful." Clergy of color, most recently an African-American pastor in Flint, Michigan, have also spoken out against him.

After the Access Hollywood tapes came out, Ralph Reed, head of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said that for "people of faith," the recording "ranks low on their hierarchy of concerns," to which popular evangelical leader Beth Moore responded via Twitter, "Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don't think it's that big a deal." Speaking for many female evangelicals, she continued: "I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it."

On a plane flight last February, Pope Francis, referring to Trump's plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to build a wall on the Mexican border, said, "A person who thinks only about building walls – wherever they may be – and not building bridges, is not Christian."

In most of these cases, Trump has not hesitated to fire back.

"For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful," Trump replied. "I am proud to be a Christian. ... No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."

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