(Photo: Reuters / Joel Page)
Pastor Paula White and Donald Trump are teaming up to host a private meeting with Christian leaders in New York this week.
The Thursday meeting has been billed as a "time of dialogue & leadership with Mr. Trump," who is seriously considering a run for the presidency in the 2012 election.
Details of the meeting could not be confirmed. Multiple calls to Paula White Ministries were not returned.
One of the invitees, however, to the meeting is Brian McLaren, a popular Christian author who is considered part of the controversial emerging church camp.
McClaren posted the invitation he received on his blog last week. It reads: "Pastor Paula along with Mr. Donald Trump would like to extend a special invitation to Brian McLaren for a time of dialogue & leadership meeting with Mr. Trump. This private meeting will take place on Thursday, May 12th, 5:30pm at Trump Tower in NYC."
The author – surprised by both the invitation and the meeting itself – declined the invite "due to cost of travel" and has thus not confirmed details such as attendees or topics that will be discussed. But he predicts the meeting is an attempt by Trump to reach out to Christians before his expected announcement in June on whether he'll launch a presidential bid as a Republican.
"Apparently the Donald is serious about reaching out the (sic) the religious community," McClaren wrote in his blog which was titled "I'm not kidding ... can you trump this?"
"What a crazy world. What a crazy religion. What a crazy country," he added.
While admitting he would like to be a fly on the wall at the Thursday meeting, McClaren seems to have already made up his mind about Trump as a candidate for president.
"I can think of few people with the means to be president who would be worse for the country and the world than Donald Trump," he told The Christian Post in an email. "His 'birther' talk, his questionable moral history, his love of money, his combative nature, his arrogance, his nationalism as opposed to a more global mindset, his carelessness towards the poor, and his love for power make him, in my mind, a horrible candidate."
He continued, "I find the way he talks about President Obama to be ugly and mean-spirited. Obviously, disagreement is legitimate, but there is a kind of rhetorical toxicity that hurts us as a nation."
In recent months, Trump took the label "birther" to a new level as he stole the media spotlight by persistently questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship and repeatedly asking that he release his birth certificate. While Obama finally released his long form birth certificate last month, saying the country needs to move past the "silliness" and focus on big problems to solve, Trump moved on to question the president's academic records.
The real estate mogul and reality TV star told The Associated Press that Obama was "a terrible student."
"How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?" he said. "I'm certainly looking into it. Let him show his records."
In the midst of all this, Trump has touted himself as a pro-lifer, a supporter of traditional marriage and a Christian – or more specifically, a "Sunday church person," as he told CBN.
And some in the Christian community have begun to soften toward Trump, to which McClaren responded, "I'm appalled that several notable evangelicals have spoken so highly of him!"
"When Christians present themselves as a single-issue or selective-issue voting bloc to be won en masse by candidates, I think they undermine their credibility and detract from a healthy political process," the author stated.
Evangelist Franklin Graham said on ABC that although he initially thought it was a joke when he first heard Trump may be running, he now believes the billionaire can be his candidate of choice.
Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, also expressed that he and other conservatives are considering Trump as a serious candidate.
Whether this week's meeting in New York is an attempt to reach out to Christians or not, Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and founder of Liberty Counsel, doesn't believe it will be successful in tapping into the evangelical community if it involves Christian leaders like White – a Pentecostal preacher who said in 2008 that she does not endorse candidates, after being accused of supporting Obama – and McClaren.
"I don't think they have broad influence within the greater politically active evangelical community," Staver commented to The Christian Post.
It's clear, however, that for a candidate to be elected, he or she needs the support of evangelicals, Staver stressed, while noting that in the previous election, Sen. John McCain lost the evangelical vote (rather than Obama won it).
So far, he noted, it remains to be seen how Trump will be received by evangelicals.
"There are still a lot of questions on where he stands on life and marriage," he said. While Trump says he is pro-life and against gay marriage, Staver said additional probing is necessary before the evangelical community can be confident in his positions.
"Many of the candidates he supported in the past financially have been liberal Democratic candidates," the Liberty dean pointed out.
Trump needs to show that he is not just politically converted to pro-life and traditional marriage, but that he also strongly believes in those issues, Staver said.
"Those are the questions people will be asking."