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Pastor resigns from Trump’s evangelical advisory board, asks others to speak out

Ronnie Floyd, from left, Rodney Howard-Browne, Adonica Howard-Browne, Johnnie Moore, and Paula White stand behind President Trump as he talks with evangelical supporters in the Oval Office at the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

(RNS) — The Rev. A.R. Bernard resigned from the White House’s evangelical advisory board, the first departure from that council in the wake of President Trump’s widely condemned comments on a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Bernard owed his departure to a “deepening conflict in values” with the administration.

The lead pastor at the Christian Cultural Center, the largest evangelical church in New York City, Bernard tweeted out his letter of resignation from the high-profile board on Friday (Aug. 18).

Its members endured criticism this past week for standing by Trump after he appeared to many on Tuesday to draw a moral equivalence between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, and as executives, in response to the president’s comments, began to resign from White House business boards.

In Charlottesville, white nationalists shouted anti-Semitic and racist slogans, and a woman died after a car driven by a Nazi sympathizer plowed into a crowd of anti-racism activists.

The Rev. A.R. Bernard at Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Photo by Lee Boon Bee via arbernard.com

Bernard, 64, was perhaps the evangelical advisory board member most likely to publicly dissociate himself from it during a week in which a broad spectrum of religious and political leaders accused Trump of pandering to bigots.

He was a teenage civil rights activist and leads a church in diverse Brooklyn, where Trump garnered few votes. He voted twice each for Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and takes a softer stance on same-sex marriage than many of his evangelical Christian colleagues.

Bernard, on Don Lemon’s show on CNN Friday, said other members of the advisory council should be more willing to publicly criticize the president.

“I would love to see more of the evangelical leaders who are on the board make strong statements in reaction to it, and that doesn’t mean they have to abandon him,” he said, adding, “But they should come out and say something of substance.”

The Trump campaign announced its Evangelical Executive Advisory Board in June 2016 as the then-candidate became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. It was tasked with convening regularly to “provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of the faith in America,” according to a statement at the time.

The board was not officially convened by the administration after the election. But it did not disband either, and, since then, “its relationship with the White House has been informal but certainly active,” said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author and advocate who has served as unofficial spokesperson for the group, in an email to RNS.

“The members of the board have been the anchor attendees/invitees of all the evangelical meetings and a number of us have acted as unofficial advisors in various ways across the government, all in our capacity as private citizens,” Moore continued.

The White House has hosted several meetings of prominent evangelical Christians since Trump took office, including a May dinner the night before the National Day of Prayer in the Blue Room of the White House and two gatherings in July. One has been described as a day of meetings with White House staff at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in July that ended with a prayer for the president in the Oval Office.

The Rev. James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in suburban Chicago, was the first to resign from the evangelical advisory board last fall after the release of a 2005 recording of Trump making lewd remarks about women.

Bernard said in a tweeted statement about his resignation that he had distanced himself from the evangelical advisory board months ago.

After Trump’s comments Tuesday, in which the president referred to the “fine people” among both protesters and counter-protesters, CEOs began to resign from two White House business advisory councils, citing their own commitments to tolerance and racial equality and how, as the councils pursued a stronger economy, politics had become a distraction. The president later announced he was disbanding both his Strategy and Policy Forum and his Manufacturing Council.

The remaining members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities all also resigned Friday (Aug. 18) in a letter sent to the White House.

Attention then turned to the president’s religious counselors, with critics asking why evangelical advisory board members wouldn’t break with Trump.

“While America’s manufacturing giants take principled moral stands against white supremacy and Donald Trump’s failure on Saturday to renounce racists by name, none of the members of his ‘Evangelical Advisory Council’ — the so-called court evangelicals – have resigned their posts,” John Fea, a professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania who studies Christianity and American history, wrote on Tuesday.

“Apparently in the United States it is the manufacturers, not the evangelical clergy who advise the POTUS, who now deliver moral messages to the White House.”

While many members of the evangelical advisory group last week spoke out against bigotry on social media, and from their pulpits on Sunday, they also declared that it would be wrong to abandon a president more in need of faithful advisers than ever.

Neither did they abandon Bernard, with several tweeting statements or making remarks on weekend news shows complimenting the pastor.

“I deeply respect and have always respected, Dr. Bernard,” Moore said Friday evening in a written statement.

“Sometimes, friends disagree & that doesn’t change our commitment to our shared faith and friendship. We have every intention to continue to extend invitations to him to contribute his perspective on issues important to all of us.”

More than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, the largest proportion of all religious groups polled. These voters often say that though they do not always approve of Trump’s personal behavior, they admire his leadership skills and business acumen and appreciate that he kept his promise to nominate a conservative to the Supreme Court.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

36 Comments

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  • “Its members endured criticism this week for standing by Trump after he
    appeared to many on Tuesday to draw a moral equivalence between
    protestors and counter-protestors in Charlottesville.”

    So no one is going to stand up for the truth? Sounds like this “pastor” has not the conviction, nor the faith to do just that.

    What has Trump said that is so egregious? He condemned the racists, he condemned the violence, and yes he pointed out that there was/is violence on both sides which is the truth. Could he have said it better, yes, could he have been more condemning of racism, yes, but what he said is not, NOT and endorsement for them.

    People are so blinded by their hate and loathing of Trump, that they will hear and interpret what he said to reinforce their own perceptions.

    Then of course don’t get me started on this alt-left attempt to discredit Trump which they pledged to do when he was elected. This is nothing more than a witch hunt rather than an opportunity to come together and stand against racism.

  • “White nationalists” is a euphemism. A mob with torches and Nazi flags chanting Nazi slogans is a mob of Nazis. Nazis, carrying out the Nazi ideology, murdered millions of civilians.

  • Trump has still not unequivocally condemned the Nazis marching in the US. He can’t bring himself to do it. It’s “many sides,” “along with other groups.” And the Nazis and the Klan know it, and thanked him for it, and celebrate his ongoing support. Disgusting. And not Christian.

  • Sorry to hear there was no conflict of vaues with President Grabby until the Charlottesville incident.

  • There is no such thing as the “alt-left”. That was made up by Trump in an attempt to draw an equivalence between the racist/Nazi/alt-right marchers and the anti-Nazi marchers.

    As far as hate and loathing of Trump, he keeps giving Americans more good reasons to loath him. Defending the “very fine” (Trump’s words) Nazis is just one more.

  • That can’t be right, sister Lauren Markoe:

    (1) “The Rev. A.R. Bernard (who) resigned from the White House’s evangelical advisory council … (due) to a ‘deepening conflict of values’ with the administration … takes a softer stance on same-sex marriage than many of his evangelical colleagues”? According to N. R. Kleinfield, “The Big Pulpit of the Rev. A. R. Bernard”, New York Times, May 21, 2009: “A.R. Bernard … is a Republican who opposes abortion and gay lifestyles”!

    (2) “The Rev. A.R. Bernard … (and fellow) evangelical advisory board members … continued to … support (Trump) after the election”? Au contraire! According to Kenon White, “Roland Martin Presses Black Pastors On Their Involvement In Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board”, NewsOne, 2016: “Pastor A.R. Bernard told Martin he is not supporting Trump”.

    (3) Why did you say, “Bernard … was perhaps the evangelical advisory board member most likely to publicly dissociate himself from it … (due) to a ‘deepening conflict of values’ with the administration”, when, in fact, he’s not the sort of person who’d “publicly dissociate himself from” even a criminal like Kong Hee, a fellow Megachurchman? Remember him? His Wikipedia entry reads: “Following a 2012 arrest and a trial beginning in 2013 into the allegations that Kong and five other church leaders illegally used $24 million of church funds while misusing another $26 million in a cover-up, Kong was found guilty in 2015 as the ‘key man’ behind the scandal … He is presently serving his sentence”! Au contraire! According to Cheryl Wetzstein, “Singapore megachurch founder Kong Hee on trial in religious freedom test case”, Washington Times, February 8, 2015: “A.R. Bernard (is) among supporters of City Harvest Church pastor facing corruption charges … Mr. Kong has ‘made a few mistakes in judgment,’ Mr. Bernard said without elaborating, but he ‘never did anything illegal, never did anything to the inurement of his own pockets or that of his wife.'”

  • $24 million? $50 million? And all for a “mistake in judgment”?

    I’d settle for a million with the understanding that I would make no mistake in judgment at all! But then, I can go cheaply, where other people must travel first class.

    And “church funds.” Millions in church funds. I’m sure starving children in Africa were well fed with all of that money.

    The love of money corrupts. And the absolute love of money corrupts absolutely.

  • There is no alt-left. It is a fantasy to draw attention away from the hate agenda of those who support Trump.

  • Suarez puts these advisors in fine company comparing them to the great prophets and holy men of ancient Israel.

  • I’m so relieved these are your words, Ben in Oakland. It’s so tiring to respond to name-dropping around here; last time was Joel Hunter. Who? This weekend’s A.R. Bernard. Who? They say so-and-so are Evangelicals like me, but who are these “they”? Thing is, when I started to take laity-sabbaticals from Evangelicals, I filled my time by following up on people news name-dropped on me, starting with THE Billy Graham. Dig into him, unearth this and that, and what do you get? No wonder atheism is on the rise. Once upon a time it was, “Let My people go!” Now it’s, “Never mind!”

    It hurts, though. I’m hurting. My fellowship’s hurting me. Only God & Jesus are left. And my Better 5-Eighth. Hanging in there.

    You too, my friend.

  • The idea of a religious advisory committee seems plain silly. A truly religious president would simply call on his own pastor. Besides, I can’t imagine Trump listening to real Christian advice. It just doesn’t jibe with his worldview.

  • Thanks.

    As I have said many times on these pages, I have no particular beef with religion, even though I am an atheist. My oldest friend in the world, 55 years now, is highly religious, he’s also a very good man. My argument is always with weaponized religion, with people hiding their very real sins behind their very fake religion.

    I am sorry that your co-religionists cause you pain. you feel the pain because of who you are. But their use of their faith is about who they are, not about who you are. Please Don’t take their burdens on yourself. It helps neither of you.

  • It’s not the prophets whom the government summons who do what is needed–though if you think about Bilam and his donkey, he did, anyway, because he couldn’t help himself. But usually it was the prophets compelled to speak out due to circumstance. Are members of the Evangelical Council prophets? They, too, were called. And perhaps Rev. Bernard’s resignation is a message that ought to be heard further.

  • Well that is the fallacy that the left has no alt-left because they think they are right about everything. You can add the BDS anti-semetic group, the antifa group which would like people to believe they are the moral authority when they themselves are thugs just like the ones they target. You see all someone has to do to rope liberals into their cause and present a victim, or perceived victim when nine times out of ten the so called victim is nothing or the sorts.

  • And who has the armed militias who have threatened the federal government; and who has shot and killed 55 people since 2009; and who drives cars into a crowd of peaceful protesters; and who marches shouting antisemitic slogans? Not your fantasy alt left. Just your run of the mill right wing nut jobs. There are left wingers who are antisemitic, who protest Israeli policy towards Palestinians but KKK and Nazis? There is no comparison between people who support genocide to protesters from the left

  • Who removed gay pride marcher because they were carrying an Israeli flag? Who does not have temperament for open dialogue and riot to silence those they do not want anyone else to hear. Who labels attacks against innocence as alt-right and does not label terrorism in the same manner. Your fantasy is that you equate everything that is wrong and bad in society with the right, politicizing every action that occurs to demonize people you have been told are a blight. The left speaks of love, marching against hate, but all I see is rage, anger, violence, and ironically hate. Most Americans do not support this mentality, and are getting sick and tired of the manufactured chaos created for nothing. You want to topple society but your all too brainwashed to begin to ask what is this new society REALLY going to look like, not the Disney version.

    The plain and simple fact that you think you are so right in everything you do is the clear and undeniable sign that you lack self awareness of your own shortcomings makes you as ignorant as those you label as enemies.

  • Good for Rev. Bernard. As for the rest of Trump’s clerical supporters — they are pseudo-Christians who have abandoned common sense and decency to stand with an ignorant immoral buffoon.

  • Assuming everything you said about the left is true, you still didn’t reach the crescendo of the alt-right (that’s what they calle themselves) murderous acts, affirmation of the elimination of the Jews, and unhypocritcal promotion of violence and mayhem.

  • Apparently it’s not all that much of a conflict, since only 1 member of the Evangelical advisory board resigned over it. The rest of the members must not see a conflict.

  • “What has Trump said that is so egregious?”
    In his first statement, he saw no moral difference between the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who just killed someone and the protesters who were demonstrating against said groups. The he condmened the first group after a flurry of criticism. A day later, though, he walked it back and made it clear he saw no moral difference between the groups. The KKK and other white supremacists have been ecstatic since this happened. They saw no condemnation whatsoever in what Trump said, and they already though Trump was giving them support before the protest got ugly.
    If you can’t see why there’s a moral difference between neo-Nazis and those who oppose them, then you’re only showing your own moral failing.

  • (1) Bernard has stated that homosexuality is no worse a sin than any other, and that he makes a distinction between the “lifestyle” and the person. While this is hardly friendly toward gays, compare it to Trump pal Robert Jeffress, who stated that gay rights will pave the way for the antichrist, and called for civil war in response to Obama’s transgender protection orders. (2) Bernard’s statement about not supporting Trump came _before_ the election, in the context of advising not equaling support. (3) Statement (2) supports the idea that Bernard was “perhaps the most likely to disassociate” from Trump.

  • It sounds like you’re hearing and interpreting to reinforce your own perceptions. The question was whether Trump drew a moral equivalence between the protestors and counterprotestors. He did, there’s really no dispute about it. He did not endorse the Nazis or the KKK, but he came close by saying that there were fine, upstanding protestors among them.

  • Give them time. I suspect that about a week before Jesus comes back, they’ll all repent and resign.

    Jesus has been waiting only 1984 years. Wait!!! Is that a sign?

  • Do you really believe that the counter protestors were just carrying daisies and holding hands? Look I reject everything they were counterprotesting too. Racism is a blight on society and needs to end, but don’t think for one moment the counterprotestors were not contributing to the discourse either. What we witnessed in Charlotte was racial/ethnic hate vs hate (though justified considering) but still hate.

  • No, I think the protesters fell victim to the standard KKK fundraising tactic: be as disgusting as humanly possible, spewing as much hate and vitriol as they can in an attempt to provoke onlookers into punching them, then suing. Some of the protesters were dumb for falling into that trap, but there’s absolutely no moral equivalence here, no matter how much you and the other racist apologists pretend otherwise.

  • I hope God judges you less critically than you pass your supreme judgement on other Christians that don’t live up to your standards.

  • (1) Agreed. Actually, heterosexually promiscuous, then divorce-prone born-again Christians, ARE the hypocrites. Why? Because they’re “doing it in church”, whereas LGTBQ aren’t. Evangelical heterosexuals are getting away with … what’s the word. Remember Jesus’ name-calling among God’s people – You wicked and ADULTEROUS generation. Not, You wicked and homosexual generation. He’s referring to these hypocrites inside God’s Kingdom – not outside. Outside? Well, that’s another twist to this story, but never mind for now. My point is if Evangelicals find Pride Parades contemptible and abominable, then they should have their own version as the better alternative for the world to see: The Evangelical Adulterers Parades – and Proud of It!

    (2) Trump’s Advisory Board of Evangelicals comprise both pro- and anti-Trump voters. AR Bernard voted for Clinton, then for Obama, then said he wasn’t voting for Trump. But since then, you’re saying, He voted for Trump? Trump got him on board under false pretenses. He advertised his Advisory Board of Evangelicals so Evangelicals thought he was pro-Evangelical. Richard Land and Russell Moore of Southern Baptist Convention were other anti-Trump Evangelicals.

    (3) Which begs the question, why disassociating Trump but not disassociating Kong Hee? Stands to motive. Trump hadn’t been paying him attention is a ruse, not the motive.

  • any religious leader, who does not believe ELOHEEM and/or THEIR Son is in charge. does not need to be, advising the office of high priest of this nation.

    any religious leader, who does not agree that ELOHEEM and/or THEIR Son somehow appointed trump as the high priest of this nation has faith in their father the devil.

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