Before launching his new round of campaign stops next week, Donald Trump visited Washington D.C. Friday for a holy purpose.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee gave a 30-minute speech at the Road to Majority, Faith and Freedom conference, an annual meeting of conservative political leaders and faith-following attendees. Speaking to a ballroom full of people Friday afternoon, Trump simultaneously touted his support for religious freedom and his disdain for presumed Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.
Trump took aim at Clinton, saying her policies would lead to increased poverty and an unsafe America and boasted that he was the best option to lead the country back to its strongest point. The most spirited response from the crowd came after Trump stated his desire to fight the “war on Christianity” and uphold the right to life.
Over the course of his candidacy, religious voters have been skeptical of Trump’s faith. A self-proclaimed Presbyterian, the candidate was criticized last summer for failing to quote his favorite Bible verse. A further embarrassment came when the church Trump claimed he attended issued a statement that he was not an active member.
Nevertheless, many religious leaders have openly embraced Trump as their presidential nominee, most notably Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, who endorsed him in January.
Attendees of the Road to Majority conference had some reservations about the Republican nominee. Many seemed to weigh the pros and cons of supporting him as a president. While some agreed that he was not as Christian as they would have liked, they also felt he was their best option.
“I think the speech he gave in there made me look at it differently in terms of religious conservativism,” said Taylor Smith, 20, a Baptist. “I liked the fact that he came out and said he’s pro-life. I wasn’t sure of that. He had said in the past that he supported some funding of Planned Parenthood.”
Maury McGrew, a 74-year-old elder at his church in Virginia, said he agreed with about 70 to 80 percent of what Trump said. “You wouldn’t have him be your Sunday School superintendent, but if you want someone to build a bridge or build a road, he’s tough and he’s not stupid,” he added.
When asked about Trump’s thoughts on letting transgender people use any bathroom they’d like, McGrew responded, “I think he kind of said something he didn’t really think through too well. What he was trying to say was, that’s not the major issue of this country today.”
Tamara Scott, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa, said Trump impressed her with his comments on upholding the faith, “His comment that war on Christianity will end should encourage every Christian in this nation—I’m not here to judge where he’s at and where he’s not. I’m thrilled that he recognizes that there’s a war on faith.”
But not everyone was sold by Trump’s comments. Outside the hotel where the event took place, a group of protestors, including one called Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, carried signs that read “Thou Shalt not be a Xenophobe.”
Lisa Sharon Harper, the chief church engagement officer at a local evangelical church, said Trump represented everything her religion is against.
“Were looking at the impact of Trump’s policies and the way he’s conducted himself on the trail. He’s proposed to ban Muslims, build a huge wall and denigrate the inherent dignity of Mexican Americans.He’s fanned the flames of violence at his rallies, and specifically in those cases against African Americans—there’s almost no one who he hasn’t touched,” she said. “His power has the capacity to crush the image of God.”
Despite the questions surrounding the candidate’s true religious beliefs, at least one attendee said supporting the alternative to Trump would be much worse.
“I want our country back,” said McGrew. “If we elect Hillary Clinton we’re dead, we’re done.”