Much has been made of the importance of Christian faith in the Trump administration, so why doesn’t the White House have a faith-based office as did the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, a reporter wanted to know at the White House briefing Tuesday.
“I don’t think an office is what determines the faith of the administration,” replied White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, noting the president and his staff meet regularly with faith advisers.
“I think we actually have more people front and center speaking openly about their faith and advocating and helping build on that foundation than probably any previous administration has.”
One of those advisers is Johnnie Moore, who spoke with WND shortly after the White House briefing Tuesday.
Moore clarified that there is no longer a formal Evangelical Advisory Council, which was part of the election campaign in 2016. His relationship is informal – interacting sometimes daily with the administration, he said, and about every four to six seeks directly with the president – and he sees advantages to that lack of structure.
“Based on my experience, this White House doesn’t need to have a faith-based office in order to have a positive, open and productive relationship with the faith-based community,” Moore told WND.
The issues discussed, he said, range from the “obvious,” religious liberty and the sanctity of life, to the “less obvious,” paid family leave and criminal-justice reform.
Last fall, President Trump issued an executive order renewing faith advisory councils for agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. But he did not renew the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, launched in the George W. Bush administration and extended in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
Moore said that while the formal office served the purpose of outreach, it had another purpose: “to keep the faith community out of the West Wing.”
“This is an administration that wants our community not down the road meeting with staffers, but actually in the heart of the conversation,” Moore said.
He said he personally has been in substantive meetings in the White House with a cumulative total of about 500 religious leaders.
“I’m not sure that many of those offices, over the course of previous administrations, have had so many meaningful and substantive interactions with religious leaders,” said Moore.
He said that’s the point that Sanders was making at the White House briefing.
“Just because the infrastructure is different, it doesn’t mean the quality of the relationship is different; and on the contrary, it’s actually better,” he said.
Moore, who spoke with WND in October about his book on the persecution of Christians worldwide, “The Martyr’s Oath: Living for the Jesus They’re Willing to Die For,” is a visiting lecturer at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity and a fellow of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Concordia University. He is also the founder and president of the KAIROS Company, a consulting and public relations firm based in Southern California. He previously was chief of staff for movie and television producer Mark Burnett, and a senior vice president of Liberty University. He was honored in April for his humanitarian work with a “Medal of Valor” award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Mostly of one flavor?
Last fall, the progressive website Think Progress expressed concern that the faith “baked in” to the Trump administration appears to be “mostly of one flavor: conservative Christian.”
The website noted Cabinet members regularly attend a Bible study with Vice President Mike Pence, and it named members “known for preaching right-wing Christian positions,” including EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Moore said that while evangelicals certainly get a lot of attention, noting they number as many as 80 million in America, according to some estimates, the White House interacts with people of a variety of streams of Christianity and other faiths.
His first meeting at the White House, he said, included Catholic and Jewish leaders, and among them were representatives of the progressive Reformed Jewish faith.
Think Progress feared the Trump White House’s move away from a formal structure regarding matters of faith was a threat to “transparency.”
Moore commented that he’s answered just about every question asked of him about his meetings, and he challenges the idea that bureaucracy produces transparency.
“I actually think, generally speaking, it’s the exact opposite. I think bloated government and bureaucracy, and piles and piles of rules and regulations and carefully worded phrases actually serve to make government less transparent,” he said.
“One of the many things I like about this White House is that they are more reliant on their relationship with regular, everyday Americans and less reliant on the formal infrastructure of government.”
Moore pointed out that as a private citizen, the White House “can’t keep me from saying anything I want.”
“I think that’s a very positive thing,” he said. “This White House has an open-door policy. These [faith leaders] have been able to come in, and they push back on things, and then they leave. And they can say whatever they want, whenever they want to whomever they want.”
Moore acknowledged that the Cabinet is not only “sympathetic to people of faith, it’s a Cabinet filled with people of faith.”
“This is a White House of leaders that pray together,” he said. “It’s not uncommon at all for meetings to begin with prayer.”
There are probably more evangelical believers in the Cabinet than in any previous administration, he said, including President Reagan’s.
“In previous administrations, when evangelicals talked to the White House there would be an issue of translation,” he said. “That’s not the case at all here. And it’s not just the president and the vice president, or even the Cabinet, it goes really, really deep into government.
“There are more deeply committed believers in various positions from the bottom to the top.”
Moore emphasized it isn’t necessary to have a faith office to deal with policy that intersects with the faith community.
“There are probably more [government-faith] partnerships going on than ever before; it’s just not being funneled through one office.”
Trump’s personal faith
Moore said it’s his observation that Trump has “a personal faith and a deep respect for pastors.”
He pointed to David Brody’s new book, “The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography,” which, the publishers say, tells how Trump “won over evangelicals not by pandering to them, but by supporting them and all their most important issues without pretending to be something he’s not.”
In an op-ed for the New York Times last Sunday, Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, wrote that his “reporting suggests Donald Trump is on a spiritual voyage that has accelerated in recent years, thanks to evangelicals who have employed the biblical mandate of sharing and showing God’s love to him rather than shunning him.”
Brody said Trump told him that he “was exposed to a lot of people, from a religious standpoint, that I would’ve never met before. And so it has had an impact on me.”
Moore, since he met Trump five years ago, has seen “someone who has changed, for sure, and is changing.”
He said that often when he and other leaders go to the White House with senior staff and Trump finds out they are on the property, the president will seek them out.
“Those are incidents when we have prayed for him and for his administration,” Moore said.
Moore tweeted a photo last July of pastors laying hands on Trump and praying in the Oval Office that caused a stir, including questions about their motivation.
“There’s a lot of speculation about why we’re involved,” he told WND.
It’s not about the photo ops, he insisted, pointing out that “99 percent of the time” they’re meeting with staffers.
“I think we all have this perspective that it’s the responsibility of a spiritual leader when called upon by their government to provide advice,” he said.
“Not to mention we have a lot of reasons to be incredibly grateful for the promises Trump has made and fulfilled – astonishing achievements in the first year when it comes to religious liberty and the courts and sanctity of human life, and all these issues we care about.”