Tuesday, November 29, 2016
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Trump’s advisers: The faith factor
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By EMILY MCFARLAN MILLER AND KIMBERLY WINSTON
c. 2016 Religion News Service
(RNS) President-elect Donald Trump will spend much of the time until his inauguration on Jan. 20 composing his new administration. That means naming Cabinet appointees and government department or agency heads, as well as selecting advisers.
Many of Trump’s appointments so far are people of faith; some are supported or opposed by different faith groups; others have made public statements or taken actions regarding different faith groups.
Here is a list of Trump’s picks to date and a description of their relationship to religion.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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, 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, 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.
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