President Donald Trump will be among friends Thursday when he speaks to the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast, an event dominated by his staunchest supporters, evangelical Christians.
He comes to the breakfast with several promises kept.
“There are a lot of issues that the president has delivered on for evangelicals and for Christians,” said Jenna Browder, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Faith Nation show.
“We’re talking about moving the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. We’re talking about his stance on abortion and being pro-life. We’re talking about the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, and not just him at the Supreme Court but also the federal courts as well,” Browder said in a VOA interview.
This year, however, there’s a new item on the agenda of many evangelicals: helping undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who now face deportation after Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows them to stay.
Trump has said he wants these immigrants — known informally as Dreamers, a name taken from a legislative effort to address their status, which did not pass — to remain in the only country many of them have ever known, but only if Congress approves measures to strengthen border enforcement and fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
At a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, evangelical leaders joined members of Congress from the president’s Republican Party in demanding a solution to the Dreamers’ dilemma before a March 5 deadline set by Trump.
“As Christians, Dreamers are not some abstract category for us,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“Dreamers are teaching Sunday school in our churches. Dreamers are leading door-to-door evangelism efforts in our communities. Dreamers are the ones who are baptizing, the ones who are teaching people to read in our communities,” Moore added.
Conservative Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma called this a “unique moment” to act on the immigration issue.
“Each individual is created in the image of God, each individual has value and worth, each individual has dignity, and for the very foundation of our country, even before we were a nation, the Declaration of Independence, we honored the rights of each individual,” Lankford said. “We want to continue to be able to practice that.”
Keeping promises to evangelicals
Trump’s reputation for keeping promises to evangelicals is good. Weeks after taking office last year, he told prayer breakfast attendees he would do away with a 63-year-old law known as the Johnson Amendment, which some Christian pastors said threatens their churches’ tax-exempt status if they endorse political candidates from the pulpit.
“Our republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government, but freedom is a gift from God,” Trump said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. “That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that.”
While the law remains on the books, Trump signed an executive order last May intended to allow churches to be more politically outspoken.
“That’s something that hasn’t been done in a long time, and the president was proud to do it,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said.
Those who support the Johnson Amendment, however, say Trump’s executive order made it easier for religious groups to deny contraception and other forms of birth control to their employees in their health insurance coverage.
At a forum held before the 2016 presidential election, Diane Winston, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and an authority on religion and the media, said evangelical voters differentiate between Trump’s morality and his politics.
“He supports some of their basic social and political positions. He may be immoral, but he has a moral agenda,” Winston said.
CBN’s Browder said Trump has shown evangelicals that while his behavior may not be what they would like, he represents their interests.
“If you have a candidate, a president, who is not perfect, like you, like me, but who is delivering on policy, then it makes a lot of sense that evangelicals would support him,” she said.
The annual multifaith breakfast is held each year on the first Thursday in February. Lawmakers and religious leaders from about 70 countries are expected at this year’s event, which brings bipartisan political leaders and their religious counterparts together to meet, pray and build relationships.
Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has headlined the event.