NEW YORK – One of the largest gatherings of evangelical leaders in a generation will take place Tuesday here under the veil of a media blackout.
The guests of honor and the main speakers will be Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson – and it will not only be closed to the press, it will be sealed with tight security.
The event at the Marriott Marquis has some wondering whether the daylong program, titled “A Conversation About America’s Future with Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” offers what looks to some involved like the first glimpse of a possible 2016 GOP presidential ticket, as the presumptive nominee meets with as many as 900 Christian conservative leaders, including James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, American Values President Gary Bauer and many megachurch pastors.
Many of those invited to the gathering were not early supporters of Trump. Some have still not endorsed him.
As Perkins said, “Many evangelicals did not support him. There are many out there that I think would like to, but there is some uncertainty. … Look, as evangelicals, Christians, conservatives in this process, we not only want to have influence but we also have to be a witness to the truth. And, so part of that is, ‘Alright, let’s have a conversation about these issues. Maybe you didn’t think through them.’ And I give him the benefit of the doubt that as a businessman who’s been doing other things, he’s not thought through these policies, and that’s why you’ll see him from time to time change his positions once it’s been explained to him.”
The leaders behind organizing the meeting solicited some 50,000 questions from grass-roots activists in preparation for the event.
“We democratized the solicitation of questions so that this meeting would be even more representative of Christians in America than the 900 people in attendance,” explained Johnny Moore, the spokesperson for My Faith Votes, a non-partisan organization focused on engaging the 25 million Christians who did not vote in 2012 and one of the two groups behind the meeting.
Moore said the event is intended to “better introduce everyone to one another.”
It is neither an “inquisition” nor a “coronation,” but a “conversation,” said Moore. “The Trump campaign has been unbelievably cooperative to commit such time with these leaders.” He described the event as “the largest, most representative gathering of national, Christian leaders I’ve seen in my lifetime,” adding, “This is not a political meeting.”
“This is an incredibly diverse group, and it is mainly made of pastors and other church leaders,” he added. “It is not a meeting of political activists. A lion share of the most influential Christians in America will be in attendance.”
Carson, who pulled out of the race for Republican nomination earlier this year and endorsed Trump, will convene the meeting and deliver an address to those in attendance.