Trump Asking Evangelical Leaders for Appointment Recommendations at Higher Level Than Previous Presidents, Richard Land Says

President-elect Donald Trump prays with pastors during a campaign visit to the International Church of Las Vegas and the International Christian Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 5, 2016.
President-elect Donald Trump prays with pastors during a campaign visit to the International Church of Las Vegas and the International Christian Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 5, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)

Signaling his apparent commitment to the evangelical community, President-elect Donald Trump will be keeping his Evangelical Advisory Board and has been soliciting their recommendations as he forms his administration.

The group of evangelicals on the executive board of the EAB, which includes author, psychologist and Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson as well as president of Liberty University Jerry Falwell Jr., provided advisory support to Mr. Trump on issues important to evangelicals and other people of faith during the New York billionaire's presidential campaign.

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In a Friday interview, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive advisory board member Dr. Richard Land, who has worked with politicians for 30 years, said he has never seen a president-elect solicit as many recommendations as Trump has solicited. 

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"They are inquiring on a regular basis if we have any other people, 'give them to us,'" Land said.

"I've never had that level of solicitation from an administration before. I think it's a positive signal, I think it reflects the fact that they want our input and that they understand at top levels that we were an essential element in their winning coalition.

"As you know, 26 percent of the people who voted in this election were self-identified as white evangelicals and they voted 81 percent for Mr. Trump. If you take that 26 percent out of the electorate, Mrs. Clinton won 59-35 and the Trump people have made it very clear to us that they are well aware of those numbers," added Land.

"They said Mr. Trump wants us to continue as a group and a board, and to meet regularly by phone and to meet semi-regularly in person and to give input, and we have agreed to do that," said Land, who is also executive editor of The Christian Post.

And Trump's transition team, he said, has been tapping into the EAB's brain trust for not just guidance on evangelical specific issues but they "have been staying in contact with us and soliciting recommendations for personnel in the administration," said Land. "We are continuing to do that at their request."

In a statement on the EAB in June, Trump's campaign said the creation of the board reflected the President-elect's endorsement of the diverse issues important to evangelicals and other Christians as well as his desire to access their wise counsel.

"I have such tremendous respect and admiration for this group and I look forward to continuing to talk about the issues important to evangelicals, and all Americans, and the common sense solutions I will implement when I am president," Trump said at the time.

Land explained that while the counsel of the EAB is being sought on a variety of issues by the Trump team, he believes the board's input "has more weight on issues that are of particular importance to evangelicals, like the judges and the Supreme Court and religious freedom issues, faith-based initiatives and Israel."

While the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush, spoke comfortably about his Christian faith, Trump's reported Christian faith has been more suspect.

Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas who is also a member of Trump's advisory board, told Politico that "faith is very important to him."

"I've discovered over the last 18 months that President-elect Trump's faith is very important to him but is also very personal with him, which is why I don't discuss it publicly," he said. "Like many faith leaders, I'm very encouraged by President-elect Trump's strong commitment to protecting the religious liberties of Christians, as well as people of all faiths."

Trump, according to Politico, has also had deeper conversations about his faith with retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who he recently picked to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Gwenda Blair, a prominent biographer of the Trump family, told Politico that the president-elect, who describes himself as a "proud Presbyterian," practices a kind of transactional religion which he learned from the late Norman Vincent Peale, who pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, New York, for more than 50 years. Trump's family attended Peale's church when he was growing up.

"I think Norman Vincent Peale is the definition of a kind of transactional religion where it's all about getting ahead," said Blair.

"Norman Vincent Peale's message was, do whatever it takes to be successful, everything is transactional," Blair said. "Trump, in more recent times, his appearing in public and holding a Bible and very occasionally saying he's a man of faith and a churchgoer ... it's been expedient. It may be true, but those have certainly been statements that have been presented pretty transparently, in an expedient way."

Despite his approach, however, Land explained that Trump has also proven himself to be very "humble" in his interactions with the EAB.

During a call with the EAB, Land said the president-elect was once rebuked by members of the board when he got transactional about going to Heaven.

"He said, 'the only way I'm going to get to Heaven is by repealing the Johnson amendment,'" Land recalled.

"Immediately, one of our people on the call said, 'No sir Mr. Trump, the only way you're getting to Heaven is by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior and His sacrifice on the cross for your sins. And Mr. Trump's reply was very humble, very respectful, he said 'thank you for reminding me.'

"I gotta tell you, I've been dealing with politicians and public officials since 1987 on a regular basis and I could count on the fingers of one hand the people who have responded that humbly and that respectfully to that comment," said Land.

The Southern Evangelical Seminary president said while there isn't consensus on every single issue the EAB discusses, for example on immigration, their relationship has been "collegial and fraternal."

When Trump was elected president last month, the mood at their first meeting after that "ranged from extreme relief to elation and euphoria and everywhere in between."

As they await Trump's inauguration, said Land, "I think most of us are taking the posture of the famous statement by Ronald Reagan 'trust but verify.'"

In the meantime though, "So far we're encouraged. So far I would have to say that I have been more pleased than I expected to be with his appointments. ... But there (are) a lot of appointments still to make and the most important one, of course, is who's going to replace Scalia and federal judgeships in general and those are gonna be absolutely key," said Land.

"I have no reason to believe that he's not going to fulfill those promises and commitments but I don't take it for granted, and I don't think anybody on the board does either," he added.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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