A meeting with pastors and televangelists invited to Trump Tower ended with the group surrounding the candidate and laying hands on him for a closing prayer.
Many evangelicals who support Donald Trump for president don’t expect him to hold Bible studies in the White House but want somebody who can solve problems, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor said after a two-and-a-half hour meeting between the candidate and about three dozen religious leaders Monday afternoon on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York.
Asked on Fox News if Trump is “religious enough” for evangelical voters, First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress responded, “I think after seven years of Barack Obama, the threshold of expectation has been lowered.”
“A lot of evangelicals aren’t looking for a president who is one of them,” Jeffress said. “They just want a president who doesn’t hate them like the current occupant of the Oval Office does.”
Referring to Trump, Jeffress said, “I think the fact that he at least makes an attempt at evangelicals and says he likes them is probably good enough for a lot.”
Jeffress, who recently prayed for Trump at a campaign rally in Texas, joined fellow Southern Baptist David Jeremiah in the mostly Pentecostal group at the invitation-only meeting set up by Christian televangelist Paula White.
“It was a fascinating meeting,” Jeffress, a Fox News contributor, said of the group that included televangelists Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and TBN religious broadcaster Jan Crouch.
Jeffress said they talked about many things, but he came away most impressed with Trump’s charisma, grasp of the issues and “the fact that he’s in it to win it.”
“I’m not here to endorse any candidate, but I’m telling you that anyone who discounts or dismisses Donald Trump does so at their own peril,” Jeffress said.
Jeffress said he had opportunity to ask the first question, and he brought up Trump’s habit of personally attacking rivals and critics. Politico reported that Messianic Jewish evangelist Kirt Schneider sided with Jeffress in a back-and-forth that turned when Cleveland Pentecostal pastor Darrell Scott defended Trump, saying, “To be quite honest, if you tone it down too much, you won’t be you.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to get thrown out of a 26-floor Trump Tower for asking that or not, but he was very gracious,” Jeffress described the exchange to Fox News. “He said that was counterpunching, in his viewpoint, so we went back and forth on that. But what was interesting was the reaction of the other pastors. They kind of started jumping on me for asking the question, saying: ‘We don’t want him to dial it back. That’s who he is.’ They like that.”
“What it said to me is a lot of the evangelicals supporting Donald Trump aren’t expecting that Trump’s going to start holding Bible studies in the Oval Office” Jeffress said. “They just want somebody who’s going to solve problems.”
Jeffress said Trump “is very aware” of concerns about what some conservative evangelicals view as a war on their faith.
“He talked about religious liberty and the fact that the way to preserve religious liberty is by Supreme Court appointees,” Jeffress said. “All of these battles are being fought in the courts right now, and he wants justices who understand religious liberty.”
CNN described the purpose of the meeting as an effort by Trump “to reach out to an influential set of Republican primary voters.”
Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Politico he thinks Trump’s appeal to evangelical voters is overstated.
“The people that Trump has so far identified as his evangelical outreach are mostly prosperity gospel types, which are considered by mainstream evangelicals to be heretics,” Moore said.
“Trump seems to be positioning himself as a secular version of the health-and-wealth televangelists,” Moore added. “What Donald Trump is doing in terms of promises for the future is very similar to what’s going on among these prosperity gospel hawkers.”
David Jeremiah, a broadcaster, author and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., who writes for Baptist Press, appeared praying in a video first publicized by a Dallas Morning News blog asking God to aid Trump by bringing into his life “a strong African-American who can stand with him and represent that community so that his voice will be heard even in a stronger way there.”
“Thank you for allowing us to be here for this special moment,” Jeremiah said. “Perhaps we’ll look back on this day and remember that we stood together and we prayed for the next president of the United States.”