WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with evangelical supporters this week as news was breaking about the president’s son’s connections with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
The supporters, including some who had been on Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the campaign, attended a daylong meeting Monday (July 10) scheduled by the Office of Public Liaison at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, said Johnnie Moore, who served as one of the campaign’s evangelical advisers.
The evangelicals did not know they would be meeting with the president ahead of time, he said. Nor did they discuss the unfolding Russian meddling story with him.
“At a certain point in the day we visited with the President and Vice President,” Moore told RNS in an email. “They just heard we were on the property and took time to say ‘hello.’”
Moore and other leaders took to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on Tuesday to recount their latest visit with the president, noting that they prayed for him in the Oval Office and remain confident in his administration.
Pastor Robert Jeffress, who hosted a Fourth of July concert at the Kennedy Center that featured a speech by Trump and Jeffress’ First Baptist Dallas choir singing “Make America Great Again,” tweeted: “Ultimate selfie! Always an honor to visit with our great @POTUS! Forget #FakeNewsMedia. @realDonaldTrump is energized & determined to #MAGA!”
Polls have shown that 81 percent of white evangelicals supported Trump in the 2016 election.
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Asked if evangelical leaders are worried that people would consider their presence in the Oval Office an indication that they’re not concerned about the Russia-related controversies, Moore said: “Evangelicals consider it a responsibility and an honor to advise and pray for the administration.”
He said their prayers Monday and the meeting in general were “not at all” related to Russia.
“It was a normal meeting, like many other meetings we’ve had before,” he said.
At least one of the leaders in attendance later opined about connections between the Trump administration and Russia.
“Garbage,” tweeted Rodney Howard-Browne in response to a Washington Post tweet that said “White House thrust into chaos by revelations about meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer.”
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., said the only mention of Russia he recalled during the meeting next door to the White House was “in a fashion dismissive of the mainline media.” He added: “I don’t think there was anybody in that room who has any remote suspicion that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
Moore, an author and advocate for persecuted Christians, said the daylong meeting with about 30 evangelicals touched on issues such as health care, taxes, religious liberty and judicial appointments.
“It was casual and informal. We just stopped in. There was no agenda,” Moore said of the evangelicals’ time with the president and vice president. “We left feeling like our country was in exceptional hands and so are our religious liberties, too.”