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Trump advisers: The faith factor

Then President-elect Donald Trump stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar

(RNS) — An education secretary who supports school vouchers to get more children into private religious schools. A White House strategist whose ex-wife accused him of anti-Semitism. A national security adviser who called Islam “a political ideology hiding behind a religion.”

After a campaign in which President-elect Donald Trump was accused of trafficking in bigotry and hatred, and of changing his views to win the conservative religious vote, he is choosing Cabinet members who have made controversial statements on religious and ethical issues.

Here is a list of some of the appointees and what they have said and done with regard to religion.

Rick Perry

Several media outlets report former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be Trump’s pick to head the Department of Energy, the body Perry famously could not name as a candidate in the 2012 election. Perry campaigned in that election on the promise to dismantle the department he is now picked to lead.

Rick Perry is an outspoken evangelical Christian. As governor of Texas he organized a prayer rally that drew 30,000 people to a Houston stadium where a parade of Republican candidates appeared alongside religious leaders in prayer. The event drew condemnation from church-state separationists.

Perry is on the record as stating the U.S. was founded on “Christian values.” He has called evolution “one of the theories that is out there” with “some gaps in it” and mistakenly claimed while governor that Texas public schools teach creationism — something the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. He has called climate change science “a contrived, phony mess.”

When Perry ran for president in 2012, he likened it to a ministry he felt called to and said his candidacy was “God’s will.” He and his wife attend the evangelical Lake Hills Church in Austin.

Rex Tillerson

The 64-year-old outgoing chief of Exxon Mobil is Trump’s pick as secretary of state. Tillerson is a Christian, and a longtime member of a Congregationalist church in Texas. His church is a member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, a denomination with links to the Puritans that is made up of about 400 fully autonomous congregations.

Not a lot is known about Tillerson’s personal religious beliefs, but he is a lifelong member of the Boy Scouts of America, which has links to Christianity. But as head of the Scouts, Tillerson advocated to open its membership to gay youth.

And while some of Trump’s picks are known creationists and science deniers, Tillerson took Exxon Mobil to a position of recognizing the science that shows climate change is linked to mankind’s use of fossil fuels.

Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, is Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt is a member of First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., where he has served as a deacon. First Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has opposed marriage equality, reproductive rights for women and LGBTQ rights, including bathroom access for transgender people.

Pruitt is on the record about some of these things. He approved of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold an employer’s right to deny birth control access to employees on the basis of religious objections. He sought an injunction to prevent transgender bathroom access, and he said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.

He is also a known climate change denier, though it is unclear if that is linked to his religious views.

Ben Carson

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during the 20/20 Club Presidential Justice Forum at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane - RTX1V7KX

Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the 20/20 Club Presidential Justice Forum at Allen University in Columbia, S.C., on Nov. 21, 2015, during his run for the Republican presidential nomination. Reuters/Chris Keane
 

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-Republican presidential candidate-turned-Trump supporter, has been nominated to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A Seventh-day Adventist who has been baptized twice, he spoke about his faith during the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech, blasting both Obamacare and political incorrectness.

During the 2016 election cycle, he said he believed the world literally was created in six days, as some but not all conservative Christians do. He confirmed that in a 17-year-old video he said the biblical Joseph built the pyramids in Egypt to store grain (they are really Pharaohs’ tombs). And he tried to link Hillary Clinton to Lucifer.

Other controversial opinions he voiced during the campaign were that he “would not agree with” electing a Muslim to be president and that Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

“Dr. Carson’s views on Islam, American Muslims and the world are dangerously ill-informed and could negatively impact any government agency he heads,” said Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Carson is also a climate change skeptic, stating, “there is always going to be either cooling or warming going on.

Gen. James Mattis

U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on March 5, 2013. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on March 5, 2013. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a retired Marine general known to his troops as “the warrior monk” for his dedication to the philosophy of war, is Trump’s pick for secretary of defense.

Mattis has said he disagrees with Trump’s plan to ban Muslim immigrants. “They think we’ve completely lost it,” he said of U.S. allies. “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system.”

Subordinates say religion is a factor Mattis, 66, took into consideration when planning a mission. “He told me how he saw us fighting — and where — and how he was getting us ready to do just that,” former Marine Stanton Coerr wrote of Mattis in the journal of the nonprofit organization The Bridge. “He laid out history, culture, religion and politics, and he saw very clearly not only where we would fight, but how Seventh Marines, a desert battalion, fit into that fight.”

Reince Priebus

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee stands at the main podium as he previews the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 17, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar/File Photo

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, stands at the main podium as he previews the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 17, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar/File Photo *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

One of Trump’s first appointments was Reince Priebus as his chief of staff.

Priebus, a Wisconsin lawyer and Republican Party chairman, is a lifelong member of the Greek Orthodox Church. In a CNN segment titled “A Day in the Life of Reince Priebus,” he said the three things that get him through the day include the Greek Orthodox liturgy (the other two are the Republican Party platform and the Milwaukee Brewers schedule).

He reportedly has maintained dual participation at two Racine, Wis., churches: Kimissis Greek Orthodox Church and Grace Church, where he started a Bible study and prayer group for young married couples, according to The Journal Times.

Steve Bannon

CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaign Stephen Bannon is pictured during a meeting at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, on August 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Steve Bannon is pictured during a meeting at Trump Tower in  New York City on Aug. 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

After Trump named Steve Bannon his chief White House strategist and senior counselor, RNS columnist Mark Silk described Bannon’s strategy this way: “There is a certain affinity between the white nationalism of the alt-right and the Jewish nationalism of the Zionist right. Steve Bannon’s strategy is to use it to foster an anti-Muslim presidency.”

In an interview with Mother Jones, Bannon called Breitbart Media, which he previously headed, “the platform for the alt-right,” a white nationalist movement. He also called its ideology “nationalist,” though he did not specifically identify it as “white nationalist.” His ex-wife has accused him of anti-Semitism — a charge his spokesperson has denied — and both the ADL and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism protested his appointment because of Breitbart’s anti-Semitic ideology.

Bannon told Bloomberg News, “I come from a blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats.” He delivered a 2014 speech via Skype to a conference held inside the Vatican, the seat of Catholicism, describing a “crisis both of capitalism but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West in our beliefs.”

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn

US Army Lt General Flynn testifies before House Intelligence Committee in Washington

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee about worldwide threats on Feb. 4, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn has been tapped as the assistant to the president for national security affairs.

Flynn is a retired intelligence officer and member of the board of advisers for ACT For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.” He has referred to Islam as a political ideology hiding behind a religion, according to The Dallas Morning News, and tweeted that it is rational to be afraid of Muslims.

Like Bannon, Flynn was born and raised in an “Irish-Catholic family of blue-collar Democrats.”

Jeff Sessions

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) meets with the Senate Judiciary Committee chair Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) (not pictured) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., on November 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., meets with the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, (not pictured) in Washington on Nov. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Gary Cameron *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama was the first senator to endorse Trump. Now he’s the president-elect’s pick for U.S. attorney general.

Sessions previously was a prosecutor for the Justice Department. (He was denied a federal judgeship over testimony that he had made racist remarks.) He’s made clear he’s “not happy” about the direction the department has taken under President Obama’s administration, calling its refusal to defend a federal ban on same-sex marriage “shameful,” according to The New York Times. He voted in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage.

Sessions attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and is active in his family’s church, Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, where he’s served as a lay leader, Sunday school teacher and chairman of its administrative board. He also has been selected as a delegate to the annual Alabama United Methodist Conference.

In 2015, in an interview with Tony Perkins, president of the Christian lobbying group Family Research Council, Sessions described global warming as a conspiracy against poor people.

Mike Pompeo

Mike Pompeo photo courtesy of Mike Pompeo

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement, is Trump’s choice for director of the CIA. Photo courtesy of Mike Pompeo
 

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, who was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement, is Trump’s choice for director of the CIA.

In Congress, the Kansas Republican has supported conservative Christians’ stance on abortion rights, voting to defund Planned Parenthood and telling The Associated Press he believed abortions only should be allowed to save the life of the mother.

He has drawn reproach from the Council on American-Islamic Relations for some of his comments about Muslims. Months after the Boston Marathon bombing, he said, “The silence of Muslim leaders has been deafening.” CAIR pointed out that a number of Muslim institutions had issued statements condemning the bombing and calling for prayer and humanitarian aid.

He also played a key role in a controversy that led a Wichita, Kan., mosque to cancel a speaking engagement by a man some considered a supporter of terrorism.

Pompeo; his wife, Susan; and their son, Nicholas, reportedly attend Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where he serves as a deacon and has taught the fifth-grade Sunday school class.

Betsy DeVos

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on November 19, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar

President-elect Donald Trump stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.
 

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, has many church-state separationists on the alert for her support of school vouchers — the use of public money to send children to private, often religious, schools. Vouchers are a darling of the evangelical Christian set and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

DeVos has deep roots in the Christian Reformed denomination, graduating from Calvin College and attending Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. Her husband, Dick DeVos, is a former candidate for Michigan governor who supported the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has called her an “excellent choice” for the role. But Casey Brescia, communications director for the lobbying group Secular Coalition for America, writes that by selecting DeVos, “the incoming Trump Administration intentionally might have gone out of it’s way to choose a candidate that would reward the religious right for their unwavering loyalty during the campaign.”

Nikki Haley

Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivers remarks at the Federalist Society 2016 National Lawyers Convention in Washington, on November 18, 2016. Photo couretsy of Reuters/Gary CameronRepublican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers remarks at the Federalist Society 2016 National Lawyers Convention in Washington on Nov. 18, 2016. Photo couretsy of Reuters/Gary Cameron *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.

Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina, is being considered as ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley was born into a Sikh family that immigrated to South Carolina from India. She converted to Christianity after marrying Michael Haley in 1996. She now attends a Methodist church but occasionally visits Sikh temples with her parents.

In 2010, Haley updated a statement about her faith on her website, taking it from a general belief in God to a specific belief in Jesus. “My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make,” the website said. “God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day.”

Tom Price

Chairman of the House Budget Committee Tom Price (R-GA) announces the House Budget during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 17, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Joshua Roberts/File Photo *Ediors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.U.S. Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, announces the House budget during a news conference in Washington on March 17, 2015. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Joshua Roberts/File Photo *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.

Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon and U.S. representative from Georgia, is Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Price is a Presbyterian who attended Emory University, affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

In Congress, Price’s legislation and voting record reflect an alignment with conservative Christianity. He is opposed to same-sex marriage and has voted to limit abortion rights. In 2008, he signed a pledge that he would not support global warming legislation that raises taxes.

Steven Mnuchin

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's reported choice for U.S. Treasury Secretary, speaks to members of the news media upon his arrival at Trump Tower in New York, on November 30, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.Steven Mnuchin, President-elect Donald Trump’s reported choice for U.S. treasury secretary, speaks to  reporters upon his arrival at Trump Tower in New York on Nov. 30, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-CABINET, originally transmitted on Nov. 29, 2016.

Trump selected Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and his campaign finance chairman, as secretary of the treasury.

Mnuchin, 53, has been described as “a very smart guy” by Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs who, like Mnuchin, is Jewish, and who, unlike Mnuchin, was the subject of a pre-election advertisement supportive of Donald Trump that some criticized as anti-Semitic.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

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