Conservative Christian leaders meet with Trump, but still won't endorse him

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Listen to Trump Discuss Religious Issues with Christian Conservatives



Throughout the election, Donald Trump has proven a divisive force for conservative Christians. They've have watched Trump morph from someone who claimed to be pro-choice into someone who proclaimed there should be "some form of punishment" for women who get abortions. That comment drew ire from both the left and the right, and Trump recently made a memorable biblical gaffe, but his list of conservative potential Supreme Court justices proved particularly appealing to Christians who'd like to see the legislative body rule in favor of their ideology.

In short, although polls show that a majority of evangelical Christians support Trump, religious leaders have been hesitant to back the presumptive GOP nominee. And despite Trump's effort to win them over — he held an event for thousands of Christians who traveled across the country to hear from him on Tuesday — many are still unconvinced.

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A masked supporter dances before Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at a campaign town hall event in Wausau, Wisconsin April 2, 2016. REUTERS/Ben Brewer
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters cheer for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
People say the pledge of allegiance before listening to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters wait for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters cheer for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as he speaks at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters (L-R) Annalisa Wales, 12, Scarlett Wales, 9, Barbara Wales, 68, and Katherine Wales, 10, wait for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters cheer for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters at a campaign rally in San Jose, California, U.S. June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
People listen to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally in Sacramento, California, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A man carries a sign for Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally to highlight POW-MIA issues on Memorial Day weekend in Washington, U.S. May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
People watch Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump address the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally to highlight POW-MIA issues on Memorial Day weekend in Washington, U.S. May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Supporters attend a rally with Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in San Diego, California, U.S. May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Marcos Spence solicits volunteers to work for the campaign of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as they stand in line before the start of his rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A supporter holds a sign as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rally in Anaheim, California, U.S. May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Supporters line up to enter a convention center where U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Anaheim, California, United States May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters of Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump arrive before Trump speaks at a campaign event in Anaheim, California U.S. May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A supporter of Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign before Trump speaks at a campaign event in Anaheim, California U.S. May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters of Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump arrive before Trump speaks at a campaign event in Anaheim, California U.S. May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump stand in line before the start of his rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
A supporter of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a Trump campaign rally at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A supporter of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump wearing a "Trump for President '16" t-shirt listens to the candidate speak at a campaign rally at the airport in Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S. On April 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo
Activists of Hindu Sena, a Hindu right-wing group, perform a special prayer to ensure a victory of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming elections, according to a media release, in New Delhi, India May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee
Supporters hold signs as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, U.S., May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Supporters cheer as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, U.S., May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Supporters hold signs as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lynden, Washington, U.S., May 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign during a rally in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, May 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Delegate Douglas Marshall in the Donald Trump booth during the second day of the Republican Party of Texas state convention on May 13, 2016 in Dallas. (Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
Supporters look on as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Lynden, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign during a campaign event at Grumman Studios in Bethpage, New York April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a photo during a campaign event at Grumman Studios in Bethpage, New York April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump supporters Josh (R), and his father Jeff Schimek (L), wait for him to speaks during a Town Hall at the Racine Civic Centre Memorial Hall April 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
Supporters (L) of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump point and scream at an anti-Trump demonstrator (R) holding a sign reading "More Like Make America Racist Again" sign during a Trump campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona March 19, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in De Pere, Wisconsin, United States, March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Bob Bolus, a supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, gives the thumbs up to drivers as they pass by on Super Tuesday in Middleburg Heights, Ohio March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Rosemary Harder wears a hat supporting Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during a news conference, after the Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri primary elections, held at his Mar-A-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Alex Stypik joins Trump (L) on stage at a campaign rally in Bloomington, Illinois March 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
A Trump supporter (R) yells at a demonstrator (L) after Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump cancelled his rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer on their candidate at a Trump campaign rally in New Orleans, Louisiana March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Layne Murdoch Jr.
A supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Cadillac, Michigan, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
A supporter of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up a sign at a campaign rally at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/ Philip Sears
A supporter of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump celebrates with a cigar at Trump's 2016 South Carolina presidential primary night rally in Spartanburg, South Carolina February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A campaign volunteer for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a hat signed by Trump during a rally with supporters in Gaffney, South Carolina February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Freda Green, of Louisiana, wears a hat in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump before a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
A veteran of both the Korean and the Vietnam War, C.J. Dauzt wears a sticker in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump before a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Louisiana February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
10-year-old Ian Linden, of New Orleans, holds a sign in support of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump before a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wait for the start of his campaign rally in Plymouth, New Hampshire February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Anne-Sophie Marquis cradles her doll Clare, wearing a button supporting U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at a Trump campaign rally in Plymouth, New Hampshire February 7, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Young supporters of Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump wait for Trump to speak at a veteran's rally in Des Moines, Iowa January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Mark Palzer shows his support for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before a campaign rally at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Barbara Tomasino shows her support for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before a campaign rally at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Supporters of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attend a campaign rally at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Liberty University students and supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wear letters spelling his name before his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A supporter of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears a National Rifle Association shirt before his speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Trump supporters Joshua Smith (from Left) and Seth Stephens, both of Aiken, South Carolina and Rona Bartolomucci of Hilton Head Island, wait along the front buffer before a rally for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill
FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ - MARCH 19: Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump look on during Fountain Park during a campaign rally on March 19, 2016 in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Trumps visit to Arizona is the second time in three months as he looks to gain the GOP nomination for President. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 18: A supporter waits for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally on March 18, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Republican and Democratic caucuses are March 22. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
A supporter of Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, wears campaign stickers on her sandals before a town hall event at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, U.S., on Monday, March 14, 2016. As protesters shadow campaign appearances by Trump, the billionaire has shifted a planned Monday-night rally in south Florida to Ohio, where polls show Governor John Kasich may be pulling ahead days before the states primary election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Trump supporters pass out signs prior to a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Primary voters head to the polls on March 15th in Florida. / AFP / RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
Attendees wait for the start of a campaign event with Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, in Bloomington, Illinois, U.S., on Sunday, March 13, 2016. After violent protests prompted Donald Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago on Friday night, the Republican presidential front-runner blamed the activist group MoveOn.Org and supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders for the chaos, while defending his own harassed supporters. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, left, stands with a man he called onto the stage from the crowd because of the 'Legal Immigrant For Trump' t-shirt he was wearing, during a campaign event in Bloomington, Illinois, U.S., on Sunday, March 13, 2016. After violent protests prompted Donald Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago on Friday night, the Republican presidential front-runner blamed the activist group MoveOn.Org and supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders for the chaos, while defending his own harassed supporters. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: A supporter exists the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cancelled a campaign rally over safety concerns March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Illinois Republican presidential primary will be held March 15. (Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images)
Supporters of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump gather prior to a Trump Rally at the Peabody Opera House on March 11, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump gather prior to a Trump Rally at the Peabody Opera House on March 11, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
RADFORD, VA - FEBRUARY 29: A campaign rally for Donald J. Trump, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, at the Radford University Dedmon Arena in Radford, Virginia, on Monday, February 29, 2016. (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images Reportage)
A woman reacts as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump works the crowd following a campaign event in an airplane hanger in Rome, New York April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A woman reacts as U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump works the crowd following a campaign event in an airplane hanger in Rome, New York April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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"This is a process as I've stated," Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Daily News during a press conference after the event. "There are some very concrete things that have to take place. Donald Trump does not have a track record when it comes to being in public office. The best indicator of future performance is past performance."

Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, echoed Perkins. "I don't think he hurt himself, but there was a general lack of specificity on some of these issues," she said. "I don't know that he did anything to bring new people over to his side. He doesn't know people like us very well," she went on. "He's getting to know us and we welcome it, but there is still work to be done."

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List — an organization that seeks to advance pro-life women in politics and that previously called Trump "unacceptable," said she was encouraged by Trump's list of potential SCOTUS judges and by some of the recent hires his campaign has made to act as liaisons between the Trump campaign and evangelical voters. "Personnel is policy, and he has put people in campaign that we trust," she said.

But when reporters asked Dannenfelser to raise her hand if she had decided to endorse Trump, she declined, as did Perkins and Nance and the four other conservative Christian leaders who helped organize the meeting.

The confab itself took place at the Marriott Marquis near Times Square while both pro-Trump and anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside. Inside, Trump reassured Christian leaders he was "so on their side." "I'm a tremendous believer, and we're going to straighten it out," he said.

He promised to place pro-life judges on the Supreme Court, as well as to end the ban on tax-exempt groups' — including churches — ability to participate in the political process.

"You talk about religious liberty and religious freedom, you don't have any religious freedom if you think about it," he said to much applause, according to the Washington Post. He went on:

"I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions — is to allow you, when you talk religious liberty, to go and speak openly, and if you like somebody or want somebody to represent you, you should have the right to do it," Trump said. A ban was put in place by President Lyndon Johnson on tax-exempt groups making explicit political endorsements. Religious leaders in America today, Trump said, "are petrified."

He also took the opportunity to bash presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who he said "We don't know anything about in terms of religion." (Clinton has, in fact, been a practicing Methodist all her life.) "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no — there's nothing out there," he said.

It's those kinds of remarks that have drawn ire from other Christian leaders, who have condemned his "politics of personal insult." "The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ," said Mark DeMoss, a close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., after Falwell Jr. endorsed the mogul. What's more, policies such as Trump's Mexican border wall and his proposed Muslim ban have worried other prominent Christian leaders such as Deborah Fikes, executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance, who endorsed Hillary Clinton on Tuesday.

"Mr. Trump's proposals are not just un-Christian — they're un-American and at odds with the values our country holds dearest," Finkes said. "It troubles me deeply to see abuse of the vulnerable and intolerance toward religious minorities on the rise. When candidates like Mr. Trump start sounding eerily similar to some of the worst global offenders, it's time for some serious soul searching."


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