Yesterday, in a typical, stream-of-consciousness, rant about his self-perceived greatness, Donald Trump told an assembly of over 900 evangelical leaders in New York that he supports them. “I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it.”
“I’m so on your side, I’m a tremendous believer, and we’re gonna straighten it out,” Trump said.
Although the media did not cover the event directly, Bishop E.W. Jackson posted a few clips on social media.
According to the Washington Post, which published a detailed review of the proceedings, Trump said that he would do things like encouraging department store workers to say “Merry Christmas” and “fight restrictions” that prohibit public school coaches from leading sectarian prayer.
Despite Trump’s questionable credentials as either a conservative or a Christian, evangelicals have been courting Trump for several years, and one minister has even claimed that Trump is prophetically designated as “God’s anointed” in a YouTube video that has amassed over 880,000 views.
Although former presidential candidate and chief Trump cheerleader, Ben Carson, introduced Trump with a stirring endorsement, Trump, who previously questioned Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist faith while simultaneously comparing Carson with a child molester, continues to attack the religious liberty of the Muslim community, and made political points by promoting the ridiculous idea that Ted Cruz’ father, an evangelical pastor, was responsible for killing JFK.
Last week, even the NRA scrambled away from Trump’s assertion that arming drunk partiers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando would have been a good idea.
Seventh-day Adventist evangelist, Doug Batchelor, who has withheld an endorsement of either candidate, reported on his Facebook page that he was in attendance at the large meeting. In what is becoming an increasingly common trope, Batchelor says that the bombastic “public” Trump is not the “private” Trump. Batchelor wrote,”I must say [Trump is] a whole different person when he is sitting down in a conversational style. At a rally he’s swaggering and bombastic, today he seemed more pensive and humble. Now we will wait and see if they arrange a similar interview with Hillary.”
What Trump does represent, to some American Christian leaders, is an opportunity to regain political power that the religious right movement lost in the last decade. Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University and an early Trump supporter, said, “Mr. Trump is a bold and fearless leader who will take the fight to our enemies and to the radical Islamic terrorists, whether they attack in San Bernardino, Orlando or Paris.
“Or whether they simply steal American jobs through unfair trade practices. The day after Ronald Reagan became President, Iran released American hostages that had been held for 444 days. In my opinion, the day after Trump becomes president, every terrorist in the world will crawl under a rock in a similar fashion.”
The Washington Post, which the Trump campaign famously banned last week, notes that not all Christian leaders are happy with the tacit evangelical endorsement of Trump:
“Catholic conservative Robert George, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and a Princeton professor, declined to attend the meeting, saying that while he may think even lower of Hillary Clinton, he fears Trump will ‘in the end, bring disgrace upon those individuals and organizations who publicly embrace him. For those of us who believe in limited government, the rule of law, flourishing institutions of civil society and traditional Judeo-Christian moral principles, and who believe that our leaders must be persons of integrity and good character, this election is presenting a horrible choice. May God help us.'”
The Trump campaign also announced a new 25-member “evangelical executive advisory board” to help Donald Trump understand issues that are of concern to “evangelicals and other people of faith in America.” Members of the board, which represent a virtual who’s who of religious right leaders, have not been asked to pledge their support to Trump as a condition of participation.