I was privileged to be invited to a special/private meeting with Donald Trump.
A heart-to-heart conversation. In fact, the title of the meeting was: A Conversation About the Future of America with Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
It was organized by Bill Dallas of United in Purpose in less than a month. At first, Shelly and I were among several hundred evangelical leaders invited to discuss key issues.
Then the number of leading evangelical pastors, authors, college presidents, radio personalities, and organizational leaders grew to 300, 500, then 750 people. Finally, about a thousand flew to New York.
How did the crowd feel about Trump before the meeting? My estimation at the start of the event: 1/3 were negative or distraught about Trump. 1/3 were neutral or skeptical. And 1/3 were positive and enthusiastic.
The meeting had intense security with background checks and several levels of verification before we were allowed to enter—with special wristbands.
All invited guests submitted two questions prior to the meeting. The most popular questions we asked Trump focused on religious liberty.
Ben Carson co-sponsored the event. He spoke, as did Jerry Falwell Jr. Mike Huckabee moderated. All three are Trump supporters. Awkward for a neutral conversation.
We didn’t intend to grill Trump on theology. We wanted a conversation … and clarification … on issues.
Here are the 14 things you should know about the meeting:
- Constitutional Perspective
As a Christian, I see both the Republican and the Democratic Parties as broken. I see both candidates as flawed.
One question we all faced in the meeting: which candidate would do less harm to our religious freedom and other constitutional rights? Protect life? Help the economy? Protect us from terrorists? Stand by Israel?
- The #1 Reasons Evangelical Leaders Are Moving Toward Trump: The Supreme Court
The 2016 Election is not just about a president. It’s about the make-up of the Supreme Court for the next generation.
The current court has been transforming our culture and economy to the left, and for the worse.
Right now, the Court is not interpreting the law, but is turning into a rubber stamp for a liberal ideology.
The current 4-4 split on the court has left a number of key decisions decided—for the short term. They can be revisited once the next President appoints new members. The next president could appoint as many as 2 to 4 new Justices during his tenure.
- Huge New Proposal
Trump shocked me and others when he said he would do away with the Johnson Amendment.
What is that? Why does it matter?
Then U.S. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson in the early 1950’s pushed through an amendment to the tax code. It took away the tax exemption status of any church or ministry if they endorsed a candidate.
Churches and ministries were told for the first time in American History they could not speak out on political issues or candidates—or they would lose their tax-exemption status.
The church has always been the voice of conscience for the community.
But not after 1954. Because of the Johnson Amendment, they could not only lose their tax exemptions, but be subject to investigation, threats, and harassment.
Trump is the first Presidential candidate to take the bold step to say he would repeal it and restore the church and the pastor’s First Amendment freedoms.
This announcement was a huge plus that turned many Evangelical leaders into Trump supporters, or at least closer to supporting him.
4. Ethics and Integrity
Neither Trump nor Clinton can be trusted. I’m just being honest.
5. Assurances on Life
Hillary Clinton has a track record of being pro-abortion: no restrictions and increased funding for Planned Parenthood. She will have a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees that they must support on demand at any time, even on the taxpayer’s dime.
Trump has stood firm for pro-life values, with no specifics except for one: a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees that they must be pro-life.
6. Critical Question: Religious Liberty
Two key members of the conversation asked key questions on religious liberty: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Kelly Schackelford of First Liberty.
The two questions focused on religious rights which conflict with the Supreme Court and political ideology of the LGBTQ agenda to force acceptance and deny Christian liberty.
For example, a business owner’s right to refuse to provide service for an activity in conflict with their religious beliefs—like a videographer forced to record a video for a homosexual wedding.
Trump agreed that people of faith have lost religious rights, and he will fight to change that.
Sadly, Trump dodged on this issue and offered vague responses … except for one point he wanted to stress: he will appoint judges who will protect religious liberty.
He moved few Evangelical leaders because of his vagueness, but pleased the group with his emphasis on conservative judges.
7. Critical Question: Israel
Clinton has advocated compromise to Israel’s security and has placed the murderous Palestinian Authority on equal moral grounds with the Jewish State.
During the campaign, Trump shared some troublesome, vague positions on Israel and his ability to negotiate a deal. Negotiate what? Every time Israel offers peace with more land, the Palestinians shoot more missiles, build tunnels of death, teach Arab kids hatred of Jews, and target civilians in brutal terrorist acts.
At our conversation, Trump gave what sounded like full support for Israel and attacked the Iran deal: “Obama has forsaken Israel.”
Smiles and applause broke out in the group … Trump moved the audience closer to him.
8. Nothing in This Race is as Important as the Supreme Court (and Lower Court) Appointments
Clinton promises to appoint only radical, left-wing judicial activists. Trump promises only conservative, strict constructionists.
Brad Dracus of the Pacific Justice Institute recommended Trump announce his cabinet and his potential VP candidate.
Most evangelical leaders are very concerned about his VP pick.
Senator Joni Ernst and Governor Mike Pence would make Evangelicals happy and coalesce
Chris Christie would keep evangelicals away.
There were mixed feelings about Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions.
Fill out our poll on who you think should be Trump’s nominee. Click here.
9. Third Party
Some in attendance wanted to protest the Trump v. Clinton choice with a third-party vote. But no third party candidate would win. Only the Libertarian Party (and perhaps the Green Party) are viable.
In the past, Libertarian candidates have been pro-life (Harry Brown, Ron Paul) and stood up for religious liberty. Not the current candidates. Governor Gary Johnson is pro-abortion, and wants to use the power of the government to force bakers, florists, and churches to service homosexual weddings, activities which violate their conscience and religious beliefs.
You and I could write in our names as the perfect candidate. But any vote for a center-right third party is a vote for Hillary Clinton.
10. Key Disappointments
Most of those attending wished there had been shorter talks by Ben Carson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Mike Huckabee and more questions and answers with Donald Trump.
Most of us wished that Donald Trump had been more specific about his answers.
Most of us did not get to ask questions. Pastor Greg Laurie was the last one of many waiting in line to ask Donald Trump a question. More time was needed to cover questions like Planned Parenthood funding.
After the Meeting
Trump needs to win 80% of the Evangelical vote. 10-15% of evangelicals are usually progressive or liberal. Right now, Trump has 62% of Evangelical support. There is a 20% drop in support for Trump compared to Romney, Bush, and McCain.
Will evangelicals get on board—even if reluctantly? I’d say from the meeting, most will.
More leaders were willing to accept Trump over Clinton.
Tony Perkins said that the alternative gave them no other choice.
What would Clinton bring?
A radical, liberal court destroying America. More abortions. Loss of tax-exemption status for churches and missions. Loss of religious liberty to preach the Gospel and follow our conscience. And no chance of repealing the Johnson Amendment.
Whatever anyone may think of the outcome, the voters spoke, and Trump won the Republican Party nomination.
Many Evangelicals were deeply disturbed and distraught by the idea of supporting Trump.
But the leaders’ conversation with Trump concluded that even the most skeptical can change their minds—based on the alternative.
Tell me what you think. Email me at [email protected]orum.org.