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Trump’s first-year report card: How’d he do on issues important to evangelicals?

(RNS) — In the days after Donald Trump’s surprise election in 2016, conservative evangelical Christians made clear their high expectations for the president they had helped put into office.

Has Trump met those expectations?

“When it comes to his very strong statements on life, on support for Israel, on the Iran nuclear deal, on religious freedom and on judges, we fully expect him to keep his pledge … to the American people,” Faith and Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed said at the time.


RELATED: RNS Best of 2017: All the president’s clergy: A close look at Trump’s ‘unprecedented’ ties with evangelicals


Fully 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

Here’s a look at how he fared on some of the issues they most care about in his first year of office.

Evangelicals in the White House

Evangelical supporters place hands on and pray with President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo courtesy of Johnnie Moore

Just this week, the Senate narrowly approved Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Catholic, as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

Brownback shares conservative evangelicals' views on same-sex marriage and abortion. And he's one of many high-ranking evangelicals in the Trump administration: Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Vice President Mike Pence are just a few with evangelical bona fides.

Other high-ranking, religious conservative leaders have reveled in their "unprecedented" access to the White House, including dinners in the Blue Room, prayer sessions in the Oval Office and daylong listening sessions at the next-door Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The Johnson Amendment

“I will get rid of, totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear,” Trump announced at his first National Prayer Breakfast.

One executive order and a proposed provision of the tax reform bill later, not much has changed practically. But some evangelicals still point to Trump's actions on the issue as further proof that he is listening to them.

Trump's order directed the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors and churches from endorsing a candidate from the pulpit without potentially losing their tax-exempt status. But since the IRS only has investigated a handful of churches in recent decades, and only one has lost its nonprofit status, one legal expert said it amounts to "pretty much nothing."

Only Congress has the authority to repeal the amendment. And while the House's version of the Republican tax bill lifted the restrictions for houses of worship and all nonprofits, it didn't make the final cut.

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Immigration and refugees

After calling for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S., Trump has signed executive orders temporarily suspending the refugees program, banning Syrian refugees and restricting travel to the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries and giving preference to refugees claiming religious persecution. He confirmed to CBN News he saw persecuted Christians as a priority.

Those orders have met with mixed reviews from the courts, as well as from conservative Christians, many of whom are involved in refugee resettlement through faith-based agencies including World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Supreme Court

President Trump, right, and Neil Gorsuch smile as Trump nominates Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In the days before the election, evangelist Franklin Graham told RNS that he wasn't focused "on his potty mouth or her missing emails," referring to Trump's language and his Democratic rival's trouble over an email server. Rather, Graham said, "It comes down to the Supreme Court, and who do you trust to appoint to the Supreme Court?"

Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat left by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Conservative evangelicals were thrilled with Gorsuch's nomination and subsequent confirmation, as well as his vote with the majority in the 7-2 decision favoring Trinity Lutheran Church in its case against the state of Missouri, in which the church claimed religious discrimination after it was denied a grant to improve its playground.

Abortion

This month, Trump declared himself the first sitting president to address the March for Life — which is not entirely true. He is the first president to address the march via satellite. Previous presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had phoned in.

President Trump speaks via a live feed to anti-abortion activists as they rally on the National Mall in Washington on Jan. 19, 2018, during the annual March for Life. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik; caption amended by RNS)


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In his introduction to Trump's brief remarks, Vice President Mike Pence praised him as "the most pro-life president in American history."

But that also is not entirely true, RNS columnist Charles C. Camosy wrote last fall.

Buoying evangelicals, many of Trump's appointments hold anti-abortion views, Camosy pointed out. Last week, the Trump administration announced the creation of an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who oppose abortion. And one of his first acts as president was to reinstate a rule banning U.S. funding for nongovernmental organizations abroad that advocate for or counsel women on abortion. That rule, though, since the Reagan administration, has come and gone depending on whether a Republican or Democrat sits in the White House.

But Trump, who had strongly supported abortion rights until he did an abrupt about-face during his run for president, has not yet kept his campaign promises to defund Planned Parenthood. Neither has he moved to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion in most circumstances. He also had pledged to sign into law a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that the House has passed but that still awaits Senate approval.

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Jerusalem

Evangelicals have long lobbied for the U.S. to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Congress also called for the move in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.

Every president since has granted repeated six-month waivers, keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv.

Trump, like others before him, made moving the embassy a key campaign promise, one he reiterated in December when he declared the U.S. would “finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” Pence confirmed during a recent trip to Israel that the move will happen in 2019.

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LGBTQ rights

The president’s sudden announcement on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military came two weeks after some evangelical leaders had met at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for daylong briefings. It was among numerous topics discussed that day and, while they don't take credit for the decision, some praised it as "courageous" and "heartening."

However, the president's ban has been blocked in the courts.

(This story has been amended to clarify Brownback's religious identity.)

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Comments

  1. I don’t get it. How can it be that after a year “not much has changed practically … [is] further proof that [US President Donald Trump] is listening to them [Evangelicals]”!

  2. “I have a very simple admonition at this point. Just shut the hell up and don’t ever preach to me about anything ever again. I don’t want to hear it. After telling me how to live my life, who to love, what to believe, what not to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter? The grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter? The outright behavior and lies don’t matter? Just shut up.”

    ~ Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele to the evangelical defenders of the man in the White House https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/michael-steele-evangelicals-trump_us_5a67f37be4b0e5630074aa39

  3. “And I know you don’t realize it, but you’re digging your own grave in these days; the grave of your very faith tradition.

    Your willingness to align yourself with cruelty is a costly marriage. Yes, you’ve gained a Supreme Court seat, a few months with the Presidency as a mouthpiece, and the cheap high of temporary power—but you’ve lost a whole lot more.

    You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise, decent, good-hearted, faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness.

    You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation.

    You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness.

    You’ve lost the plot.

    And most of all you’ve lost your soul.”

    ~ John Pavlovitz, “White Evangelicals This is Why People Are Through with You” https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/01/24/white-evangelicals-people/

  4. It should now be abundantly clear that Trump and his evangelical admirers are no friends of religioius liberty, no friends of our constitutional heritage of church-state separation, no friends of women’s rights of conscience, no friends of the public schools that serve 90% of our kids, no friends of what is best in Christianity. Trump has no morals and his evangelical admirers have no common sense.

  5. Evangelicals are in no way shape form or fashion Christians.

  6. JUDGE NOT that ye be not judged. Let he who is without SIN cast the first stone. Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. TRUMP 2020!! MAGA!! BEST POTUS EVER!!

  7. Dump Trump the CHUMP on his FAT rump on a sharp stump.

  8. Sorry guys, but Trump won the 2016 election, fair and square. All your hatred, hand-wringing, and high blood pressure times ten, ain’t gonna reverse it. Heh!

  9. Breathtakingly IMMATURE comment. What’s a “sharp stump”?

  10. LOL! Unless you are judging the sins of others who you cannot get special favors from. Then you feel free to treat people like garbage and attack them under the guise of “sincere religious belief”

    You guys are so full of crap.

  11. Anterograde amnesia is a common affliction for Trump supporters. It renders them to form new thoughts, memories or opinions past November 2016.

  12. INTENTIONALLY so, to suit YOU as the audience. Belief in SKY FAIRY STORIES such as your silly Christian ones is immature, so you GOT WHAT YOU DESERVE there.

  13. Actually, no, it’s clear that he didn’t win it “fair and square”, but had Russian interference helping him. It will be tough to reverse the problem and result, but it’s more and more likely that Trump won’t last beyond the next election. He might not even manage to stay in office through his first term.

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