By Ryan Hammill 6-21-2016

Donald Trump is meeting with a large group of evangelical leaders in New York City today in an attempt to “seek mutual understanding,” event organizer Bill Dallas, president of the group United In Purpose, has said.

While evangelicals have traditionally been an important part of the Republican base, Trump’s candidacy has exposed some fissures. The combination of questionable investments, vulgar and hateful rhetoric, widely publicized affairs, and biblical illiteracy has caused some evangelical leaders to denounce Trump, even as others have voiced their support.

Russell Moore, a leader within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., even took the step of disassociating himself from the label “evangelical” back in February.

“The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he wrote.

With dissent in the traditionally reliable ranks, Trump has ramped up his efforts to bring evangelicals back into the fold. The meeting in New York marks his most sustained effort thus far.

Here are five things you need to know about Trump and today’s meeting with evangelicals:

1. The meeting got a lot bigger.

The closed-door New York meeting was originally planned for 400 people, but has grown to 1,000 attendees. Jerry Falwell Jr., an early advocate for Trump, plans to tell his fellow evangelicals that even if they don’t agree with everything the presumptive Republican nominee says or stands for, he’s still worth supporting.

“If we all wait for the perfect candidate who has the demeanor of our pastors and agrees with us on every issue, including our personal theological beliefs, then we may all sit at home on election day for the rest of our lives,” he said.

2. There's a lot of opposition to Trump.

While Falwell and others, like Ralph Reed and David Lane, have been outspoken in their support for Trump, other evangelical and Christian leaders like Russell Moore have vocally opposed his candidacy. Moore has repeatedly denounced him, earning a Twitter rebuke from the candidate himself: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”

Rob Schenck, president of the evangelical group Faith and Action, took to Twitter just as the June 21 New York meeting was beginning to warn that Trump equals danger.

In addition, more than 50 faith leaders from across the political spectrum signed a statement in April titled “Called to Resist Bigotry — A Statement of Faithful Obedience,” in which they condemn Trump’s candidacy for inflaming racial tensions, singling out Muslims and immigrants, and his other discriminatory and bullying tactics.

The Called to Resist letter also highlights the fact that Christians — including evangelicals — are not a monolithic bloc. In fact, 25 percent of American evangelicals are non-white. And as Wes Granberg-Michaelson points out, those in historic black churches meet theological definitions of being “evangelical,” but are never included in the media’s description of this group.”

3. Religous advisers will be announced soon.

Trump’s campaign is expected to name his religious advisory board sometime this week. Setting up leadership teams is standard practice for campaigns, though Trump’s has largely avoided this step. Nevertheless, following Trump’s appearance in Washington, D.C., at the Faith and Freedom Coalition, along with the June 21 meeting in New York, it’s clear he still has some work to do among evangelicals.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Jerry Falwell Jr. is a likely pick for the board of 20-30, as is Ralph Reed, along with a host of pastors and other figures, mostly from the south.

4. Christian leaders are protesting the New York meeting.

While Trump meets with evangelicals in New York, there’s a different meeting of dissenting Christians and others happening in the area.

5. You can peek inside the meeting.

And while the meeting with Trump in New York is closed-door, that hasn’t prevented attendees from opening it up via smartphone.

“I’m a tremendous believer,” Trump said in one clip, following it with this promise: “We’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

In another clip from the meeting, Trump seemed to contradict a clear teaching from 1 Timothy 2:1-2, when Paul urges Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.”

"We can't be politically correct and say we pray for all of our leaders because all of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes, selling evangelicals down the tubes,” Trump said.

You can follow along with those inside and outside Trump’s meeting in New York with these hashtags: #ConversationWithTrump, #MyFaithVotes, #FaithTrumpsFear, and #FaithOverFear.

Ryan Hammill is a former Online Assistant for Sojourners. Follow him @ryanahammill.

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