Manhattan is the stage Tuesday for potentially significant political events for evangelical Americans.
Hundreds of conservative Christian leaders meet Tuesday morning with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to assess just how strongly they will support him. By the evening, a separate group of #NeverTrumpers is expected to meet to try to galvanize a conservative alternative. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton picked up the endorsement Tuesday of a well-known evangelical, Deborah Fikes of the World Evangelical Alliance.
The morning event with as many as 1,000 social conservative leaders — mostly evangelical — starts at 10:15 a.m. and ends about midday. There is not a vote or endorsement coming at the end, and participants say they are coming with open minds. But polls show that a majority of white evangelicals — and social conservatives in particular — are leaning toward Trump. The question is how greatly.
Lower in this post, we share meeting attendees’ comments on what they want to hear from Trump. Their priorities include support for traditional marriage, economic development, terrorism and something conservative radio talk show host Eric Metaxas calls “some level of introspection and self-knowledge.” (Metaxas is a Trump supporter).
The meeting is a display of many old-guard conservative Christian leaders — and an impressive display at that. The event opens with former GOP candidate and neurosurgeon Ben Carson talking about unity, and then Liberty University President Franklin Graham says a prayer before Trump speaks. There will then be a question-and-answer session moderated by another former presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.
About 50,000 questions were submitted, organizers said; 20 were chosen. Here are THE leaders who will ask questions on the following topics: James Dobson from Focus on the Family will ask about religious liberty, political activist and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed will ask about national security, prominent Latino pastor Samuel Rodriguez will ask about immigration, Texas mega-pastor Jack Graham will ask about leadership, Maryland Bishop Harry Jackson will ask about marriage, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd will ask about racial tensions, and California televangelist David Jeremiah will ask about Israel policy.
The meeting is closed to the media, but a news conference is expected later Tuesday.
Although Americans in general have been moving away from institutional faith, evangelicals in particular have always been skeptical of such hierarchy, and it’s hard to say how much sway the group will have in firing up the evangelical base.
By evening, a very different evangelical effort gets going in Manhattan. That includes members of a new group called Better for America, a coalition of social conservatives and other moderate Republicans who are opposing Trump. That effort was described a few days ago by my colleague Jennifer Rubin. The meeting Tuesday night, one evangelical leader attending said, will include topics from recruiting a candidate to improving ballot access to “strategies for causing trouble at the [GOP] convention.”
Social conservatives in the group say a hallmark is willingness to compromise – to a degree.
“To be frank, at this point there’s a widespread feeling it would be hard to do worse than a choice between Trump and Clinton. There are threshold issues like [opposition to abortion] but this is not a group that will be overly strict about ideology” at this point. “The circle of trust is wide.”
Also Tuesday, Fikes, a longtime leader in major evangelical organizations, in particular on human rights and religious freedom issues, said Clinton represents Christian values far more than Trump.
“I feel like years of all the work that has been done on advancing international religious freedom in the last 15 years is in danger of unraveling with the policies of Donald Trump,” said Fikes, a longtime board member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the United Nations’ representative for the World Evangelical Alliance. The WEA is an umbrella group of national evangelical organizations from dozens of countries around the world.
Fikes said she hears regularly from evangelicals overseas who are concerned that Trump’s comments on immigration and Islam could harm Christians who are minorities in other nations. Clinton, Fikes said, is associated with things like health care and anti-poverty work.
“People refer to her as Sister Hillary, evangelicals! They don’t question her faith” she said.
Read more at Trump’s Meeting with Hundreds of Conservative Christian Leaders Begins In Manhattan; David Jeremiah, James Dobson, Harry Jackson, Ralph Reed, Samuel Rodriguez, and More set to Ask Questions on Marriage, Defense, Israel, Racial Healing – No Closing Endorsement Expected.