My Take on Evangelical Leader’s Meeting with Donald Trump
By Dr. Rick Scarborough, President, Vision America Action
I was there for the entire six-hour meeting, including the 90 minutes that Donald Trump was with the entire group, plus another half hour meeting with a smaller group. I went to the meeting asking myself, can I vote for this man? I left believing that I could and encouraged that I could do so enthusiastically if Mr. Trump would conduct his campaign in the future with the same humility and transparency that we experienced in our meeting with him in New York. He was disarmingly charming and respectful, quite different than his public persona to date. I was encouraged by the meeting.
The meeting did not go as we originally planned. Initially we agreed to 2½ hours of “Conversation with Donald Trump.” Just days before the meeting, the campaign threatened to pull out of the meeting altogether if they were not permitted to see the questions before the event. Reluctantly, it was agreed that reversing our decision and not having the meeting with so many key individuals who RSVP’d was a poor decision due to all the other meetings we had planned around the Trump Conversation, so the questions were submitted. What we got was scripted, rather than the conversation we had originally planned.
I was asked to serve on a panel of nine to discuss Mr. Trump’s answers to our questions once he left the room.
In my opening remarks, I noted that we had asked questions which were important to the faith community, and Mr. Trump gave us information in return. While refusing specific answers to very specific questions, his information was very useful, and if he keeps his promises to us, the specific concerns expressed in our questions will be addressed. For instance, on matters of Religious Liberty, he promised to overturn the Johnson Amendment passed in 1954 which essentially took away the right of pastors to address political issues or candidates from their pulpits. While arguably, pastors do still have their rights, nothing in my lifetime has done more to silence our pulpits that the threat of churches losing their tax exempt status if the pastor becomes too political. And that all started when Lyndon B. Johnson attached a rider to another bill making it illegal for anyone using a tax exemption granted by the IRS to speak about political issues or candidates.
That Mr. Trump was knowledgeable and willing to confront this injustice was very encouraging. He also discussed the type of judges he intends to appoint to federal courts, and if he keeps his pledge to us, many of the specific concerns we addressed in our questions will be corrected in time. So, while he failed to specifically answer all of our questions, he gave us the kind of information that enabled us to feel comfortable with his candidacy.
Franklin Graham prayed to open the event and gave a wonderful report on his rallies on each of the state capital steps where he’s experiencing 10 times the number of people he expected. He believes it reveals a genuine concern for the state of our country by many Christians across the nation. Before Trump joined us Dr. Ben Carson spoke and told us about the Donald Trump he had come to appreciate. When Trump entered the meeting, Gov. Mike Huckabee came in as well and served as moderator sitting on the platform across from Mr. Trump. Trump entertained questions from Dr. David Jeremiah, Dr. James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Kelly Shackelford and Sammy Rodriguez. Questions covered religious liberty, Israel, potential Supreme Court nominees, immigration and abortion.
Dr. James Dobson posted the opening question for Mr. Trump in the ballroom for the entire crowd.
His strongest answers were about the type of judges he would appoint and his commitment to Israel as our ally and partner in the Middle East. I believe he fully understands the importance of appointing conservative judges who believe in original intent. The next president will likely appoint two or more Supreme Court justices in the next four years. As we have seen in the past, it doesn’t matter how many good laws are passed if the courts are going to strike them down or judges are going to legislate from the bench, usurping the authority of Congress.
Trump answered Dr. Jeremiah’s question about Israel saying he would be a strong supporter of the nation of Israel. Trump also understands the threat to our country by Islamic Jihadism and Christians understand that the blessings of God on our nation depend on our support and blessings on Israel, something that has been woefully missing over the last seven years.
Perhaps the most promising news to break from the meeting with evangelical leaders and Donald Trump was the news reported by the New York Times over the weekend: A Born Again Donald Trump? Believe It, Evangelical Leader Says.
In the article, Dr. James Dobson shared with the reporter that Mr. Trump had recently come “to accept a relationship with Christ” and was now “a baby Christian.” In the article, Dr. Dobson details how someone he knew had led Mr. Trump in the sinner’s prayer.
Since that report over the weekend, I have met several very skeptical Christians, and perhaps they should be, but keep in mind that many were skeptical that Jesus rose from the grave until they saw him walking and talking later. Remember doubting Thomas? And as I told a skeptical lady on Sunday evening, Saul of Tarsus was rounding up Christians and watching them be jailed and killed for their faith, and then he met Jesus and became the Apostle Paul who wrote a third of the New Testament. As far as I know, Donald Trump hasn’t persecuted any Christians.
And remember this, only God’s divine intervention will save America.
Tuesday in New York was a good first step. Over 1000 Christian leaders met in unity with a burden to pray for our country and work together for a better future. Perhaps the revival has just begun. Time will tell. Pray!