Trump Announces Evangelical Executive Board, Some Evangelical Leaders Balk
Donald Trump met privately with evangelical leaders in New York Tuesday. At the end of the gathering his presidential campaign announced the formation of a fifteen-member Evangelical Executive Board. The Trump campaign release underscored that those on the board were not asked to endorse Trump in order to be named.
Members include former congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson; the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed; Southern Baptist leader Richard Land; LIFE Today founder and host James Robison; and Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University.
Week before last, Trump told the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference, “We will restore faith to its proper mantle in our society … we will respect and defend Christian Americans.” Reed, the founder of the coalition, explained his support by saying, “We’re not looking for a political messiah because we already have a messiah. We don’t need to find one in the political arena. We understand that perfection is not the measure that should be applied, not to any political leader and not to any man or woman.”
Some on the new board, including Dobson, had been strong supporters of Ted Cruz and opponents of Trump. In March, Richard Land commented, “It must be said, before it is too late, that whatever the problems may be, Donald Trump is not the answer.”
Trump’s campaign said that forming the new board “represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed. Mr. Trump has received widespread support from Evangelical leaders, communities and voters, winning the majority of the Evangelical vote throughout the primaries.”
James Robison, founder of LIFE Outreach International and publisher of The Stream, said in a public statement that he was “privileged to share some concerns with Mr. Trump personally, and I will share insights with any candidate — anyone seeking any office — the principles I think are the most meaningful and upon which freedom was established and must remain in place for it to be sustained and preserved.”
“In my opinion, highly respected, effective church leaders attended this gathering, because Mr. Trump wanted to hear them and know their heartfelt concerns, as well as receive the insights and wisdom they offered,” Robison continued. “My prayer is that he will have humility and meekness to receive it through any channel or vessel God chooses.”
Others at the meeting who did not join the board spoke hopefully of Trump and his candidacy. The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Danenfelser said that Trump “came across very well as a messenger for everybody in the room, not just as a beneficiary of evangelical votes but as a fellow traveler. That’s not necessarily an easy distance for him to have traveled because people didn’t see him like that before. He made no missteps. There were no explosions.”
The Christian Conservative Opposition
Then there are those conservative Christian leaders who remain openly critical of the GOP presidential candidate. RNS lists seven who remain opposed to Trump. Among them are Russell Moore, new president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (and successor to board member Richard Land); and best-selling Christian author Max Lucado.
Another is Princeton professor Robert P. George, once described by The New York Times as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” Before the meeting George tweeted, “I have been a severe critic of Mr. Trump and there is nothing he could say at a meeting in which he is courting conservatives that would alter my low opinion of him.”
The Washington Post reported that before the gathering homeschooling and Christian right leader Michael Farris wrote on Facebook, “This meeting marks the end of the Christian Right.” At the founding of the Moral Majority in 1980, “the premise was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support,” Farris said, but now “a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. … This is a day of mourning.”
In an email to CBS News, the Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s Warren Cole Smith called the board “a horrifying list, only vaguely representative of evangelical Christianity.”
The extent of support for Trump among evangelical voters remains a matter of debate. Biola University professor Darren Patrick Guerra told The Christian Post that “while a plurality of evangelical Republicans voted for Trump, the vast majority supported other candidates.” And because many evangelicals are Democrats or Independents, “the anti-Trump vote amongst all evangelicals in the country might reach 80–90% once non-Republican primary voters are accounted for. With these numbers it seems difficult to draw the conclusion that evangelicals widely support Trump.”
At the meeting Tuesday, Trump sought to make further inroads with conservative evangelicals, describing religious liberty as “the No. 1 question,” promising to end the ban on church groups championing political candidates, and insisting he would appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
Other members of the Evangelical Executive Board according to the Trump campaign are Christian Cultural Center CEO A. R. Bernard; Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors; evangelists Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and David Jeremiah; pastors Mark Burns, Jentezen Franklin, Jack Graham, Harry Jackson, Robert Jeffress, James MacDonald, Robert Morris, Tom Mullins and Paula White; two attorneys, Tom Winters and Sealy Yates; KAIROS Company president Johnnie Moore; Tony Suarez, the executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Jay Strack, president of the Student Leadership University.