Meet the Pastors Who Support Donald Trump

Trump has been criticized for espousing hate, but some pastors believe in him.

April 14, 2016, 8:56 PM

— -- Pastor Mark Burns was "closing," finishing off what's become the usual sermonette he gives to warm up the crowd before Donald Trump arrives.

His raspy voice was aflame with passion; with every word he spoke, the audience awaiting Trump in Hickory, NC grew more and more fervent; whoops and cheers let loose. The faithful had flocked here for a Donald Trump experience...and Pastor Burns was just the man to usher them in.

"I know, even though there might be protesters outside, I know there are enough people in here that is excited, we're about to elect a man in Donald Trump that believes in the name of Jesus Christ!"

And as the crowd erupted in cheers, he added, "And he is going to make sure we as Christians are protected when he gets to the White House!"

Burns is just one of several religious leaders who have all thrown their weight behind the Republican frontrunner.

As Trump has made a name for himself chastising illegal immigrants, hurling insults at opponents, and proposing to ban people of a certain religion from entering the country, many of these leaders discount that idea that Trump is espousing hate, saying instead that he is the only choice for those who consider themselves to be Christian.

"He's fighting for Christianity," Burns told ABC News.

Before he became a surrogate for Trump, Burns was the founder of the NOWNetwork, a web-based, urban Christian programming network, in which he interviewed various prominent pastors, including Baltimore Pastor Jamal Bryant and Florida evangelist Paula White. He also pastors The Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, SC, near where he resides with his wife and children.

In September, he was invited to attend a meeting with other religious leaders to discuss the possibility of Trump running. Burns said that he was told that Trump wanted to discuss religion.

As the group of pastors conversed with Trump, Burns said he impressed him by saying how Christianity was under attack.

"[Trump discussed] How people don't say Merry Christmas...he believes these are one of the core values that has made America great and we need to get back to those values. That was the beginning of what captivated my interest in Donald Trump," Burns said.

He says that Trump's [recent] pro-life position and admission that the Christian faith is under attack all appealed to him and he vigorously defended Trump against accusations of hate or discrimination.

"He's done business with literally almost every color and race, his work speaks volumes," he said.

Burns, who has voted for presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, said he understands the skepticism people have about Trump's faith... but knows otherwise.

"I believe Donald Trump, not from what I've read in the paper, but in conversations, I've come to the conclusion that Trump has a personal relationship with God," he said.

As much as Trump often proclaims that he's a "good Christian" during rallies, he has made some missteps. Last year he told Republican pollster Frank Lutz that he tries to correct himself, without asking for forgiveness, a core tenant of the Christianity.

"I am not sure I have," Trump said when asked if he'd ever asked God for forgiveness. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there...I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

Even still, Trump has garnered other major endorsements within the evangelical community. White, a televangelist and pastor of mega-church New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, has introduced Trump. (She declined an interview with ABC News.) And, to the surprise of many, Trump was endorsed by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the late televangelist.

Falwell told ABC News back in January that his motives weren't necessarily based on shared spirituality.

"When you go into the voting booth, you’re not electing a Sunday school teacher. You’re not electing somebody that agrees with you...Jesus said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. And that means be a good citizens and choose who would be the best leader for the country so that’s something that endeared me to Donald Trump," he said.

"My decision was based on who I believe would be the best president," he added."

Others have followed suit. Trump has done well in states solidly part of the Bible Belt, winning states like South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi all with high populations of people who identify as Christians and say religion is very important to them.

But other religious leaders aren't buying it. As many pastors as have endorsed him, many more have publicly decried his policies. Author and San Antonio Pastor Max Lucado denounced Trump in a blog post.

He wrote, "I’m a pastor. I don’t endorse candidates or place bumper stickers on my car. But I am protective of the Christian faith. If a public personality calls on Christ one day and calls someone a “bimbo” the next, is something not awry? "

The senior editors of the Christian Post published a scathing editorial, "Donald Trump Is a Scam. Evangelical Voters Should Back Away."

Gary Dorrien, a professor of Religion at Columbia University and theologian at the Union Theological Seminary says that Trump's speeches and actions don't support the idea that Trump is as good of a Christian as he says.

"The basis of his campaign is morally repugnant. 'You shall love the stranger' is a bedrock principle of Hebrew Scripture (Deuteronomy 10:19 and Leviticus 19:34), which is expounded in Christian Scripture as "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27) and "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), among many other similar injunctions in both Scriptural traditions," Dorrien told ABC News.

Dorrien is also a member of the Presbyterian church, the same church to which Trump belongs, and notes how the Presbyterian faith in particular is known its "pro-hospitality policies."

"I am not saying that Trump's entire campaign is antithetical to the teaching of his church...But his appeals to racial and religious bigotry, his advocacy of torture, and everything else that he says along these lines are repugnant from a Christian standpoint or any minimally decent one," he said.

Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-based pastor, first met Trump six years ago. Now he leads the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, an independent organization that consists of religious leaders (many are without brick and mortar churches and actual congregations), and representatives from various racial/ethnic groups.

He says that he's come under fire for his support of Mr. Trump and says that many other pastors have, as well.

Burns is often vociferous in his proclamation of "All Lives Matter" during Trump rallies, a political stance that puts him at odds with many within the Black community.

"It's fueled by ignorance, not stupidity," he said.

He believes that it is no one's place to judge the relationship of a person with God and says that one's spiritual journey is a lifelong one.

"We can’t deny a person the right to change or grow or evolve in their thought processes."

Burns agrees. He says that Trump is not the perfect Christian but quickly adds that no one is.

"When I see Donald Trump, do I see a person who has professed to be a child of God, are there areas he needs to grow in?'s a growing process," Burns said.

But he added, "I know that God can use him even with all his shortcomings."

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