NEW YORK — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pandered to and hooked evangelicals on Tuesday as he met with nearly 1,000 spiritual leaders in New York, asserting that he is a “tremendous believer” that is “on your side.”
“I’m so on your side,” he declared to those gathered at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “I’m a tremendous believer, and we’re gonna straighten it out.”
“Christianity: I owe so much to it in so many ways. Through life, through having incredible children, through so many other things,” Trump stated. “But I also owe it for, frankly, standing here because the evangelical vote was mostly gotten by me.”
He then asserted that he won most of the votes throughout the Bible Belt.
“If you remember, it went to South Carolina, and I was going to be beat—very heavy evangelical state—and I was going to be beaten by (Ted) Cruz or somebody because he had a very strong evangelical vote, and I ended up getting massive majorities on the evangelical vote,” Trump declared. “And everybody said, ‘What’s going on? How did Trump do that?’ And then I won elsewhere, and, you know, I won the whole South.”
From speaking on religious freedom to contending why his presidency should be preferred over a Clinton presidency, Trump continued to woo the crowd, which often gave him applause for his words.
“The next president is going to be very vital … in freeing up your religion, freeing up your thoughts,” he stated. “You really don’t have religious freedom.”
Trump also stated that while Hillary Clinton has “been in public eye for years and years … there’s nothing out there” in regard to her faith.
“It’s going to be an extension of Obama, but it’s going to be worse because with Obama you had your guard up; with Hillary you don’t,” he asserted.
Trump told those gathered that while all leaders should be lifted up in prayer, Christians should pray most of all that the nation will vote for him over Clinton.
“I agree with that, pray for everyone. But what you really have to do is you have to pray to get everybody out to vote for one specific person,” he asserted. “And we can’t be again politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes—selling evangelicals down the tubes.”
The event had reportedly been organized by Bill Dallas of the group United With Purpose, and grew from an initial estimate of 100 evangelicals to nearly 1,000. Trump was introduced by former rival Mike Huckabee and was praised by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, as well as former contender Ben Carson.
The three played a part in swaying others to believe that Trump is a Christian, even if not born again, said Bishop E.W. Jackson of Virginia’s Exodus Faith Ministries and STAND.
“I’ve had my doubts, and I probably still do, but hearing these men who I really respect testify to the fact that they believe that Donald Trump really is a Christian, but maybe just not of the same kind you and I are” was influential, Jackson told the Religion News Service.
Others in attendance included Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in California, Tony Perkins of the Washington-based Family Research Council, Ralph Reed of the Georgia-based Faith and Freedom Coalition, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, who also serves as pastor of Cross Church in Arkansas, Colorado psychologist and radio host James Dobson, and Gary Bauer of the Virginia-based group American Values.
Trump also formed an evangelical advisory board on Tuesday, which includes Texas prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland, David Jeremiah of Shadow Mountain Community Church in California, Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, Jentezen Franklin of Free Chapel in Georgia, James Robison of the Texas-based LIFE Outreach International and Tim Clinton of the Virginia-based American Association of Christian Counselors.
Endorsement was not a condition for serving on the board.
Our leaders are “selling Christianity down the tubes” #ConversationWithTrump pic.twitter.com/55PBY26aAv
— E.W. Jackson (@ewjacksonsr) June 21, 2016