Black pastors are facing backlash from some of their own congregants for meeting with President Donald Trump this week and many are firing back at critics who say they should have never met with the president.
Van Moody, an author and pastor of the Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was among the group of about 20 predominantly African-American inner city pastors who met and prayed with Trump in the White House Wednesday and discussed issues pertaining to prison reform, urban economic growth, and workforce development.
With Moody and his church being actively involved in prison ministry and reform, he thanked the president for his leadership on prison reform and workplace development. According to the transcript of the public portion of the meeting, Moody also thanked Trump for being "compassionate and caring about all people."
Considering the large amount of media attention paid to Trump's rhetoric and his administration's actions pertaining to issues like illegal immigration, Moody's remark angered some members of his own congregation, according to WBRC.
Many critics took to Twitter to voice their "disappointment" with Moody.
On Thursday, Moody held a press conference at the church to address the concerns over his meeting with the president.
"President Trump's administration seems to be concerned about the issue [of prison reform.] What they did is ask me, along with other faith leaders, to come and share our thoughts about it," Moody said.
Moody explained that Wednesday's meeting was the second time he has visited with the administration to discuss his thoughts on the FIRST STEP Act, a bipartisan prison reform legislation passed by the House in May that has yet to be voted on in the Senate.
Moody's engagement comes at a time when his church serves in over eight prisons across Alabama and as prisons in that state are experiencing an overcrowding problem.
He clarified that his remarks don't symbolize a blanket endorsement of all of Trump's policies.
"I don't regret the comments," Moody said. "What I regret is maybe what I should have said right after was, 'on these issues.' But once again, I do appreciate anybody that tries to help the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized. And that's my heart on the issue whether they be white or black."
In a separate YouTube video addressing critics of the meeting, Moody said that he has been called "everything but a child of God."
"I understand why some people have responded to the news of me going to the White House the way that they did. But I wanted to take a minute to share my heart with you so that you can hopefully put my visit in its proper perspective," he said.
He added that the first time he was invited to the White House he almost didn't go. He said he was "very close" to not going but that he was "convicted" by God.
"The reason I almost did not go the first time is because I was thinking about me. I didn't want to be attacked and I didn't want people to think that I am an apologist for Trump or anything of that nature. Then, I was really convicted about what this was really about — 'was it about you or is it about the people who are disenfranchised and marginalized and voiceless?' Particularly, the people that we see every month as we serve throughout the state of Alabama."
Moody said there are hundreds of people who have come to Christ because of the Worship Center's prison ministry, some of whom are even church members.
"I went [to the White House] and I was brutally honest with them. I read through the bill and I actually sat down with some key leaders on this issue," Moody explained, adding that some officials had worked under previous administrations.
"I was actually surprised because I was not expecting [the officials] to receive what I had to say, but they did. They received it and I sent correspondence to support a lot of the things I said in the meeting and they responded immediately back to me," Moody continued. "It took all of that in consideration in trying to craft this bill in its final phase. Subsequently, after that meeting, the bill went forward and the bill has passed the House and has yet to pass the Senate."
Moody said that he was invited back for the meeting Wednesday.
"Just like the first meeting, there is not much that I knew about the context of the meeting — who was going to be in the meeting and who was not going to be in the meeting," he said. "[I] didn't even know going in who the other pastors were that were going to be there. The first meeting I had at the White House, President Trump did not come into the room and there was no media allowed."
Moody said Wednesday's meeting started the same way the earlier meeting had with the pastors meeting and discussing the issue.
"Then, President Trump came in and he shared his heart about the need for prison reform and for workforce development," he said. "Then, he allowed the media to come in for a moment."
Moody stressed that people have taken his "caring for all people" remark "out of context," saying, "it referred to the people who have been marginalized in the prison systems who can finally be ministered to and have the opportunities they need to succeed outside of prison if the bill is passed.
"If you follow me or have read any of the op-ed pieces that I put out ... you know that I have at times, particularly recently, been very critical about a lot of things that are happening," he assured. "What is unfortunate is that people took that statement, took that snidbit, and then ran away with it to suggest that I have sold out or things of that nature. That is absolutely not the case."
Moody pointed out that some pastors in the meeting had more conservative views than others. He added that he was a bit "shocked" to hear prominent pro-Trump Pastor Darrell Scott call Trump the "most pro-black president" of his lifetime.
The Rev. Phillip Goudeaux of Calvary Christian Center in Sacramento, California, also attended the White House meeting and thanked the president for giving "us a new hope." Goudeaux's participation didn't go over well with some former members of Calvary Christian Center. According to the Sacramento Bee, one former congregant said it was "shameless" and "contemptible."
The meeting with Trump was also attended by South Carolina megachurch Pastor John Gray, who is the former associate pastor at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.
Controversial Baltimore Pastor Jamal Bryant voiced his disbelief that pastors like Gray would meet with the president. Bryant accused the pastors of "uncle tomming" in a social media video.
Gray also responded to critics in an Instagram post explaining that his wife initially warned him that his intentions for going to the White House would be misunderstood. Gray explained that he was also conflicted because he has also voiced personal disagreements with the some of the administration's policy decisions.
"I prayed again and asked God. Do you want me in that room? My attendance gives the answer. My heart was pure as was my motive and intention," Gray said. "But the pain of those who have been hurt is real. And I would be a dishonorable man not to acknowledge that. But I will honor what I believe was the mandate on my life to be there and available to God should He choose to give me voice."
Maryland Bishop Harry Jackson, who was also part of that meeting, told The Christian Post on Thursday that those who claim that the meeting was nothing more than a "photo op" don't understand how long he has worked for this type of engagement on this issue.
[They don't] know that I have been working on this with this group for a long time, nearly a year and a half," Jackson said. "This is not taking a picture. This is something that milestones are being talked about."