The seminary president who was among evangelical leaders praying over President Donald Trump in the Oval Office said most Christians represented by the group consider the focus on the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia an “inside-the-Beltway, navel-gazing, tail-chasing exercise that most Americans don’t care about.”
Richard Land, who heads Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, added that he considered it “an irrelevancy” and charged that the news media was being “outrageously biased” in its coverage.
“If the media were doing its job,” he told the Observer, “we’d be spending a lot more time talking about the Clinton campaign’s connection to foreign governments and the Clinton Foundation’s collusion with foreign governments.”
Land was among 20 or so conservative Christian leaders who were invited to the White House last Monday as members of an evangelical leadership group that’s been recruited to regularly offer feedback to the Trump administration.
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As part of what was called a “work day,” Land said, the leaders not only got updates on policy initiatives and proposed legislation, they also met with administration officials – including Trump himself.
After getting a briefing from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his top advisers, the group ran into Vice President Mike Pence during lunch. Pence told them the president wanted him to bring the leaders over to the Oval Office.
“The president was at the desk and we gathered around him and we had chit chat,” Land reported, adding that he and the others were instructed to keep Trump’s words confidential. “Then we asked – I guess about 15 minutes in – ‘Mr. President, can we pray for you?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ So those of us who could reach him put hands on him and we prayed for him. ... We would have prayed for any president. We prayed that God would give him wisdom ... and that God would protect him. He thanked us and then we left.”
Land, who frequently visited the White House in his former job as a top official with the Southern Baptist Convention, said he thanked Trump for his recent speech in Warsaw, Poland. Land said he told Trump that the speech, in which the president said Western civilization was worth defending, “will be one of the lasting legacies of your presidency. For me, it was right up there with (Ronald Reagan’s) ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ (speech in Berlin).”
Some who have criticized Trump’s speech in Poland as anti-immigrant, Land said, “need to go have their doctors check them for Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
About 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump last year. And President Trump, facing low overall poll numbers and intense scrutiny on the Russian connection, has turned to the evangelical community as a loyal base of support. He has appeared with evangelicals at rallies and recently did an interview with Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Land, who also voted for Trump despite qualms about his three marriages and “his somewhat colorful personal history,” said he thought most evangelicals would agree that Trump as president has “exceeded our expectations.”
He cited Trump’s nominations of strict constructionist judges – especially new U.S. Supreme Justice Neil Gorsuch – to the federal bench. Land also lauded Trump for reinstating the so-called “Mexico City policy” that denies U.S. government funds to international groups that promote or perform abortions.
During their work day in Washington, Land said he and other leaders also urged the Trump administration not to deport Chaldean Christians back to Iraq, where they could be persecuted or killed, and called for more action to help impoverished residents of America’s inner cities.
One last recommendation from Land:
“I wish (Trump) would tweet differently,” he said. “I don’t mind his tweeting, but it’s what he tweets often. I think he steps on his own message ... often his tweets hurt him more than they help him. ... I’m old enough to have driven a car that had a clutch. His tweet needs a clutch.”