Trump Met by Polite, Yet Skeptical Audience in First Visit to Black Church

The Republican nominee's first visit to an African-American church is met with w

ByABC News
September 3, 2016, 6:09 PM

DETROIT — -- As worshippers raised their hands and sang, there was an unfamiliar face at Great Faith Ministries International. There, in the first row, blond hair glimmering under the light, was Donald Trump, in his first visit to an African-American church as a presidential candidate.

The Republican nominee swayed back and forth, a smile was on his face, before being introduced by Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the leader of the church.

"I'm here today to learn," he told the congregation.

But though he was greeted by applause as he took the stage, this was an audience very different from his normal campaign event crowds. They received him politely, but skeptically, many making clear that the fact they came to hear what he had to say did not mean he had their support.

Trump himself adopted a more modest tone than he usually takes, expressing sympathy with African-Americans for the ills they have faced.

"I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and there are many wrongs that should be made right," Trump told church members at the service.

Trump praised the black church, calling it "the conscience of our country," but the audience, though polite, was skeptical.

Before the service began, Elder Edwin Wells, who was seated in the audience, questioned why he and his wife, neither are members of the church, had come.

"It's hard to believe we're here to see and hear from a man that doesn't like us," he said. His wife, Gwendolyn, joking that Trump should "just go back to 'The Apprentice,'" said she was trying to keep an open mind.

"I wanted to hear what he had to say; he's entitled to that," she said.

But Jacqueline Williams, a cashier and member of the church, was reluctant to give her political opinion.

"God says judge no man because you shall be judged," she said. "It's not about Democrat or Republican, it's about who has God's potential."

Jackson was careful to remain neutral; neither he nor his church has endorsed a presidential candidate.

"If we don't have love then we're not Christian," he said.

While Trump was well-received, he faced a crowd warier than his usual audiences. His typical bravado held no weight here. Adjustments were made; he forwent asking the audience what they had to lose in voting for him, a line that has become commonplace in his remarks, one that has drawn some criticism.

"I do get things done, I will tell you. Some people have strengths -- that's one of -- I get things done," he said. It was a line that would normally be met with wild applause. Today, it was met with complete silence.

But it was Trump’s reading of scripture that was the best-received, as he closed by reading a passage from 1 John.

"No one has ever seen God but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. And that's so true."

Booker Sawyer III, a real estate agent, said he was pleased with what he saw.

"It's a blessing to have him here because we just want to hear -- be open to what he has to say," he said.

Sawyer said he wasn't yet sure who he's voting for, but Trump's visit didn’t sway him. He thinks that some of Trump’s language -- positing African-Americans as impoverished and unemployed -- doesn’t help.

"I don't think that is productive. A lot of stuff is put out there for shock value, lot of stuff is put out there to get African-Americans' attention," Sawyer said.

Carol Thomas is a staunch Democrat who says that she's been offended by things that Trump has said, but she called Trump's visit "a smart move."

"At least he can have somebody he can talk to, somebody that is on his level as far as economically, that he can see that all a black people are not so impoverished or we need so much help, because some people have arrived and helped themselves," she said.

Though some in the service declined to speak on the record about their feelings about Trump, almost all were respectful when questioned by ABC News, saying they were open to hear the New York businessman's views, even if they disagreed.

"I think it was, it was probably the best first step he could take, to actually land here in Detroit," Verzell Page said. "We are not in a suburban palace, we are not downtown in the waterfront, but we're in the hood now, so to come and sit down in the hood and engage in a conversation with Apostle Wayne T. Jackson, I think that was a big step. A huge step. Monumental.”

Meanwhile, outside, as almost 200 protesters gathered, many were not as open-minded.

"You know he's the devil," one female protester shouted. "Why would you invite him in your church?"

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