This is the first opportunity I’ve had to tell you about my consequential trip to New York City on June 21. I went there to meet with GOP presidential candidate (and now nominee) Donald Trump. There were 1,000 Christian leaders at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel that day, where most of us stayed. Our purpose was not to endorse Mr. Trump, but to have a candid “conversation” with him. We wanted to ask the candidate specific questions about his personal views and policies, and to ascertain how he will govern if given the opportunity.
The day began early that Tuesday morning at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. About 40 well-known Christian leaders met with the candidate in his conference room on the 25th floor. I joined many evangelical leaders who care deeply about our country’s future. About 25 of us from that gathering were asked to serve as the anchor of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. It will continue in the White House if he is successful in November. (See the names of these members at the end of this column.)
The initial meeting at the Trump Tower opened with him speaking briefly, followed by introductory remarks from Jerry Falwell Jr. and a prayer by Franklin Graham. I was then given the opportunity to pose the first question, as follows:
I said, “Mr. Trump, I’m sure you know that the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, seeking freedom to worship as their consciences dictated. Their passion for Jesus Christ became ingrained in the American soul, and greatly influenced our Founding Fathers as they formed a new government in the 18th century. These men wrote and passed the historic U.S. Constitution, and added to it a Bill of Rights shortly thereafter. It consisted of 10 Amendments guaranteeing specific liberties for the American people. There has never been anything like it in the history of the world. The first of the 10 Amendments secured religious liberties for all citizens and provided the foundation for the other nine.”
I continued, “In recent years, however, there has been a growing assault on these rights, notably religious liberty. Our Supreme Court has struck down Bible reading in schools and even prohibited prayer to an unidentified God. Then, they banned the posting of the Ten Commandments on bulletin boards. From there, the limitation on religious liberties has become even more egregious.
“Most recently, President Obama and Hillary Clinton have been referring to ‘freedom of worship,’ rather than ‘freedom of religion.’ Do you understand their motive? They are suggesting that Americans are free to worship in their churches and synagogues, but not in the public square.”
With that background, I asked Mr. Trump the following question, both in the smaller meeting and again in the larger assembly:
I said, “Sir, if you are elected president, how will you protect our religious liberties? Will we have to fight another revolutionary war to secure those rights to worship, think and speak?”
Donald Trump was very sympathetic to the concerns I expressed, although I can’t remember his precise words. I do recall he said it was an outrage that Christians have been deprived of their rights to speak openly on behalf of the values and principles in which they believe. He was especially exercised by a 1954 tax-code amendment by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson. Jerry Falwell Jr. said Johnson had rammed this amendment through Congress without public scrutiny. It seriously limited freedom of religion, especially religious speech, by leaders of churches and non-profit organizations. The Johnson amendment contained language that prohibited the faith community from expressing their opinions about political parties and those seeking power. That law plagues us to this day. Trump rightly condemned the legislation, which muzzled those of us who would otherwise use our influence to support our beliefs. He called that provision “unfair,” and promised to overturn it if he is elected. That would have a great impact on Washington because it would unleash Christian activists to fight for their beliefs.
Other participants within the huge crowd were then handed microphones and allowed to ask Mr. Trump to clarify his perspectives on various topics. It was a fascinating day.
Then, something happened that would get reported, mostly inaccurately, in perhaps 1,000 newspapers, blogs and media outlets. Because I was recognized by a large number of participants, I began greeting people who approached me. I talked that day to what seemed like 500 people in a 15-hour period ending at 11:30 p.m. One of those well-wishers was carrying a recording device, and he suddenly appeared before me and held a microphone in my face. He asked for my impressions from the day.
I spoke candidly for about 20 seconds, as I recall. Then he disappeared. By the next morning, millions of people were talking about my saying I had heard during the day that a minister had led Donald Trump to a relationship with Christ. I didn’t elaborate because I said all I knew. Reporters and op ed writers began criticizing me for that one-sentence remark. The Christian media were especially vicious!
One particularly harsh blogger wrote this about me. His headline read, “Dobson changes his mind about Donald Trump’s conversion.” Then he wrote:
“Is this the way we as believers should be discussed by the world? Should we be wavering like this, supporting candidates at all costs, even when it destroys our witness and credibility? Aren’t we supposed to be upstanding and able to reach the lost instead of confusing the lost? There are thieves in the temple, people!”
From my 20-second comment, I have become a “thief in the temple.” Let me explain just how off-the-wall this man’s criticism was. I responded to a Christian blogger and minister, David Jeffers, who wrote me a couple days after my comments became public. He asked me to tell him more about the event. This is my reply:
Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart. I can only tell you what I’ve heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known him for years and that she personally led him to Christ. Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do. But there are many Christian leaders who are serving on a faith advisory committee for Trump now and in the future. I am among them. How will that play out if Trump becomes president? I don’t know. It is a good start, I would think.
If anything, he appears to be a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act. All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. This much is self-evident: we can’t afford to sit out this election, and we must be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis.
Hope this helps.
Well, that is the backstory behind my mid-summer excursion. The beat goes on. A Christian man walked up to me yesterday and said with a grin on his face, “I see that you had to backtrack on your assertion about Donald Trump.” He said it with some glee, as though he had caught me in a lie.
I said, “Not really. I didn’t waffle on anything.”
I still don’t think he understood. Life is filled with inconsequential little challenges, isn’t it?
God’s blessings to you.
Note: Here are the Trump Evangelical Executive Advisory Board members who attended the June meeting:
- Michele Bachmann -Former Congresswoman
- A.R. Bernard – Senior Pastor and CEO, Christian Cultural Center
- Mark Burns – Pastor, Harvest Praise and Worship Center
- Tim Clinton – President, American Association of Christian Counselors
- James Dobson – Author, Psychologist and Host, My Family Talk
- Jerry Falwell, Jr. – President, Liberty University
- Ronnie Floyd – Senior Pastor, Cross Church
- Jentezen Franklin – Senior Pastor, Free Chapel
- Jack Graham – Senior Pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church
- Harry Jackson – Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church
- Robert Jeffress – Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas
- David Jeremiah – Senior Pastor, Shadow Mountain Community Church
- James MacDonald –Founder and Senior Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel
- Johnnie Moore – Author, President of The KAIROS Company
- Robert Morris – Senior Pastor, Gateway Church
- Tom Mullins –Senior Pastor, Christ Fellowship
- Ralph Reed – Founder,Faith and Freedom Coalition
- James Robison – Founder, Life OUTREACH International
- Tony Suarez – Executive Vice President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
- Jay Strack – President, Student Leadership University
- Paula White – Senior Pastor, New Destiny Christian Center
- Tom Winters – Attorney, Winters and King, Inc.
- Sealy Yates – Attorney, Yates and Yates