LifeSiteNews reporter Lisa Bourne was in New York for the meeting with Donald Trump. Her initial report on the event is here.
NEW YORK, New York, June 23, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – In an effort to soothe lingering doubts among one of the most reliable GOP voting blocs, Donald Trump met this week with over 1000 pro-life Christian conservatives in a closed-door, invitation-only meeting at one of his hotels in New York.
Faith leaders were looking to hear assurances from the business magnate – who has made no secret of his colorful personal life and sometimes-shifting personal beliefs – that he would stand with them on their issues.
Were they satisfied with what they heard? For some pro-life and conservative leaders the answer was a clear “yes,” especially in light of the fact that the alternative is Hilary Clinton, who is openly hostile to conservative values. For others, the jury remains out.
The tensions at the heart of the event were highlighted in a photo tweeted by Jerry Falwell Jr. – one of Trump’s most prominent evangelical supporters – after the event. The photo showed Falwell and his wife with a smiling Trump, who flashed a thumbs up. “Honored to introduce @realDonaldTrump at religious leader summit in NYC today!” said Falwell. “He did incredible job!”
Fellow Twitter users were quick to point out that prominently visible in the photo over Mrs. Falwell’s left shoulder was a framed copy of a Playboy magazine, with Trump on the cover.
— J L Falwell (@JerryJrFalwell) June 21, 2016
However, some at the closed-door gathering said that while they had no illusions about Trump's shortcomings, they left feeling more comfortable with the presumptive nominee, who took questions with an uncharacteristic down-to-earth demeanor. Others remained guarded or doubtful.
“It was encouraging that the conversation centered mostly around religious liberty and fighting to protect the Christian faith in this nation, which are cornerstones of our freedom,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement.
“Mr. Trump thankfully reiterated his promise, that if elected President, he would nominate pro-life Justices to the Supreme Court. However, it was disappointing that the campaign weeded out several pre-submitted questions about abortion, the pain capable bill in Congress, and defunding Planned Parenthood.”
Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler also went to the meeting, and said later in a recorded statement that the pro-life community was hearing some encouraging things from Trump, “But we still need to hear more.”
Scheidler said he was pleased with Trump’s commitment to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, but was disappointed that Trump’s positions on defunding Planned Parenthood and the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act weren’t fully addressed in the Q and A session.
“So it remains for us to hear more clearly that Donald Trump would support these measures,” he said.
Scheidler added, however: “We know exactly where Hillary Clinton stands. We know that she would veto any effort to defund Planned Parenthood. We know she would veto any restriction of any kind on abortion.”
Catholic Vote President Brian Burch said it was good that Trump recommitted to appointing pro-life justices who will respect the Constitution. He also praised Trump for talking about repealing Obamacare and alluding several times to the Johnson Amendment and its threat of stripping churches’ tax exempt status should they engage in any political activity.
However, Burch thought Trump made no new commitments at the meeting with evangelicals.
“Nor did he reveal any real understanding of the significant threats to religious liberty,” Burch said in a statement. “Saying ‘Merry Christmas’ in public barely scratches the surface.”
“When asked specifically about efforts by LGBT activists to reshape the military, he dodged — deferring to the role of judges and avoiding the substantive issues,” he said. “For someone applauded widely for being politically incorrect, Mr. Trump has been noticeably quiet when it comes to the radical LGBT agenda.”
Burch lamented as well that time at the meeting did not allow for questions on Planned Parenthood, Trump’s pro-life conversion, humility and faith.
Operation Rescue President Troy Newman was impressed that Trump took time to sit with the conservative group for multiple questions, “And then give direct answers. I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.”
He pointed out that Trump had also promised to keep an open door policy with pro-life leaders, “something Republican Presidential candidates have not done in recent elections.”
Newman offered a message for pro-life advocates who still have reservations about voting for Trump.
“I understand your concerns, but I’m not here to elect a pastor for America,” he stated. “I’m here to be a voice for the unborn children.”
“The babies scheduled to die at abortion facilities across America don’t care what type of man saves their lives,” he said, pointing out that, “We know for a fact that Hillary will aggressively continue the carnage.”
American Family Association (AFA) President Tim Wildmon conceded that Trump wasn’t his first choice, but said he thought he was “coachable.” Wildmon singled out Trump’s answers on the type of Supreme Court judges he would appoint as the strongest part of his performance Tuesday.
“I believe he fully understands the importance of this issue,” Wildmon said in a statement. He added, “The next president will likely appoint two or more Supreme Court justices in the next four years. As we have seen over the last few years, it doesn't matter how many good laws are passed if the courts are going to strike them down.”
Wildmon said the “weakness” in Trump’s answers at the event was in not clearly stating his views in answer to the questions about when religious freedom and the LGBT movement come into conflict. Trump simply said in response that these issues would be decided in court.
Wildmon also said he found it admirable and honorable for Trump to meet with Christian leaders.
“He is not our enemy,” Wildmon stated. “I believe he has instincts that are reverent and patriotic. He's 69 years old and remembers an America that was once a great country but has lost her way.”
Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins said in a statement he thinks many social conservative voters want to support Donald Trump, but they need more assurance from him on the issues.
“They clearly know that the alternative is four more long years of policies hostile to religious liberty and moral values,” Perkins said. “But they aren't there yet; greater reassurance is needed.”
He pointed out as well the concern over Trump not completely addressing the question on whether or not he would reverse the Obama administration's social engineering in the military.
“Overall, there seemed to be a general consensus that he ‘gets’ the crisis facing Americans' First Freedom,” Perkins said. “Whether he understands evangelicals and social conservatives is another matter. “
Campaign for Working Families Founder Gary Bauer said he recognized that some conservatives are skeptical of Trump, adding Trump was not his candidate in the primaries.
“But he is clearly reaching out to evangelicals,” Bauer said in a statement. “And if we hope to have any influence in the next administration, I believe we need to reach out to him. We will get nothing from Hillary Clinton.”
Recalling a point made by Reverend Franklin Graham at the Trump meeting that there will never be a perfect candidate this side of Heaven, Bauer stated, “The choice before us this November may not be one we wanted, but for the sake of the country and the values we cherish we must choose the better candidate, the candidate who is reaching out to us and is not overtly hostile to our values.”
Numerous people involved at the meeting, and also several pro-life and family advocates since, have called upon Americans to pray for Donald Trump, and to pray for the outcome of the election.