In a gathering with 900 evangelical pastors and leaders Tuesday, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump promised that he would protect the political speech and religious freedom of pastors and clergy by repealing a longstanding ban on church and nonprofit politicking.
As many evangelical leaders have remained skeptical about backing Trump even after he clinched enough delegates to claim the GOP nomination, the organizations United in Purpose and My Faith Votes, headed by Ben Carson, organized a much-anticipated "conversation" between the billionaire real estate mogul and over 900 pastors, activists and leaders in New York City to allow them to get to know each other better.
Trump was successful in winning over a number of the pastors in attendance by promising that he would not only elect pro-life Supreme Court justices but also vowing to protect the First Amendment rights of churches and pastors.
Trump vowed to end a ban enacted in the Johnson Amendment of 1954 that punishes churches and other 501(c) tax-exempt nonprofit organizations by stripping them of their tax-exempt status if they engage in political activities or endorse candidates for public office.
"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," the Washington Post quoted Trump as saying.
Former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas Jack Graham attended the closed-door gathering and was excited to hear Trump's "pretty brand new" idea to repeal the Johnson Amendment.
"That is a very interesting and intriguing idea," Graham told The Christian Post. "He has been studying this and he has been wondering why so many pastors and churches are so hesitant to speak. He realized the Lyndon Johnson law that churches are threatened with their tax-exempt status if they cross the line regarding political endorsements. He said, 'That's wrong.' He said, 'We need to get rid of that.'"
Graham said Trump's vow to protect the political speech of churches and pastors surprised many in attendance.
"That is pretty brand new. I think that surprised a lot of people but it pleased a lot of people as well." Graham explained. "He gets it. I think more and more, one of the reasons we got together was so that we can get him and what he is about more up close and personal and that he would get us. I think we all walked away as friends."
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Graham said that he and other pastors he talked to are ready to "champion Donald Trump" after hearing him speak on religious liberty and vow to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
"I know that I feel very convinced that it's not just 'Oh, we got to stop Hillary Clinton,' which we do, but that we can champion Donald Trump," Graham said. "I am convinced he is going to make a great president of the United States."