On Tuesday, June 21, I joined several hundred other national leaders in New York City for a private meeting with Donald Trump, frontrunner for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.
I recorded a short video as I walked through Times Square to the meeting, asking CFC’s supporters to pray for me, the other Christian leaders present, and Trump and his advisors. I wanted to thank everyone who so graciously posted messages of prayer and support!
Since this meeting, I’ve been inundated with questions about this gathering. What did Trump say? Will you be voting for him? Can we trust him?
I hope to answer some of these questions in this piece. But first, it is important to clarify what this meeting was not.
It was not an endorsement. As you are aware, California Family Council is a 501(c)3 educational organization. We are tax-exempt, and our primary mission is to defend Life, Family, and Liberty through Church, Law, and Culture. CFC can neither support or oppose any candidate for public office.
The official title for this meeting was “A Conversation With Donald Trump,” and that is precisely what it was. As I wrote in a previous post, my primary goals for this meeting were the following:
– Defend Life, Family, and Liberty at a national level. CFC is dedicated to fighting for these pillars of Western Civilization, and no candidate of any party should take the votes of Christian conservatives for granted. Anyone who wants our support must be willing to work for it.
– Be your eyes and ears during this crucial election season. Our civic duty is too important for Christians to sit on the sidelines. Each one of us must engage in this process more deeply than ever before.
– Stand for truth before one of the most powerful individuals in the world. The prophet Daniel boldly spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, even though he knew it could have grave consequences. I’m no Daniel, but I hope that I can still do my part to advance truth along with my fellow pro-life and pro-family leaders at this meeting. Our political leaders must hear God’s truth proclaimed by God’s people.
Who Was There?
The event began with a call to prayer for our country from Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan’s Purse and son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham. After a short address from Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump then took the stage with former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
For nearly two hours, Huckabee played referee while Trump fielded questions from some of the top luminaries in the social conservative movement. These included leaders like Dr. James Dobson, founder Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, and Dr. Ronnie Floyd, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I’m glad to report that despite California’s reputation of a liberal wasteland, our state was particularly well-represented at this event. In addition to myself and dozens of attendees from the Golden State, some of the leaders that participated in the discussion included:
- Samuel Rodriguez, Chairman of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (headquartered in Sacramento)
- David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church (El Cajon)
- Lila Rose, pro-life heroine, undercover video activist, and founder of Live Action
- Jim Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Community Church (La Mesa)
What Did Trump Say?
If you want to read exactly what Mr. Trump said, the full transcript of the meeting has been published online. I was personally encouraged that he is open to listening to leading Christians from around the country on issues relating to Life, Family, and Religious Liberty. However, I do share the concerns of several attendees that this meeting was heavy on rhetoric, but low on specifics. Below is my summary of what I believed were the most important takeaways, good and bad, from the meeting:
- Judges – Trump mentioned that his Supreme Court appointments would be vetted by the Federalist Society. Rather than simply stating he would appoint “conservative” judges without any further assurances, he gave a commitment to a process that will ensure excellent appointments–i.e., having the Federalist Society review his picks in advance. Given the critical importance of the Supreme Court on issues relating to abortion, marriage, religious liberty, and free speech, and given that there could be four vacancies on the Supreme Court in the next four years, this is an excellent commitment from Mr. Trump.
- Repealing the Johnson Amendment – The Johnson Amendment is the portion of the Internal Revenue Code that says churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can lose their tax-exempt status if they endorse candidates for political office. It is named after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, who introduced it in 1954. We believe this law is unconstitutional as applied to churches, because it is a way of controlling what churches can say through the threat of taxation. This was an unexpected, and very welcome, commitment from Mr. Trump.
- Non-answers – One of the more frustrating aspects of the meeting was that Trump did not really address head-on certain questions that were put to him about threats to religious liberty from advocates of LGBT causes, the military’s policies of admitting transgender and gay soldiers, etc. “Judges” seemed to be the answer to most of these difficult questions.
- Failure to address pro-life commitments – The most glaring omission from the meeting was the failure of Mr. Trump to actually discuss his commitment to the pro-life cause, or to address some of the more concerning statements he made about wanting to liberalize the Republican party platform on the abortion “exceptions” (rape, incest, etc.). I realize that Trump had a limited amount of time to speak with this gathering, and actually stayed longer than he originally planned, but it felt like a large omission for an event that was supposed to address the concerns of social conservatives.
The Bottom Line
On the whole, there were good points and bad points from the Trump meeting. My hope is that this event was the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship between social conservatives and the Trump campaign–that we can continue to influence him positively on policy questions of concern to us.
So, I suggest we take a page from my friend and counterpart, Bob Vander Plaats, President of The Family Leader in Iowa. In his excellent piece “It’s time … to think bigger than Trump,” he reminds us that:
“. . . no matter where you are on the #Trump spectrum, to think bigger and to encourage one another to keep the main thing the main thing – the church’s united mission to proclaim the Cross of Christ! Let us not allow our smaller vision of Donald Trump to so divide the Body of Christ that it compromises or disqualifies us from our true hope.”
Vander Platts is completely right. Regardless of who wins this November, Californians have our work cut out for us in defending “Life, Family, and Liberty” here in the Golden State. But thankfully, as the late Chuck Colson was fond of saying, “Salvation doesn’t come riding on Air Force One!”
I look forward to standing together with you as we work through the Church, Law, and Culture to advance CFC’s timeless core principles.