In the days after Donald Trump’s surprise election in 2016, conservative evangelical Christians made clear their high expectations for the president they had helped put into office.
Has Trump met those expectations?
“When it comes to his very strong statements on life, on support for Israel, on the Iran nuclear deal, on religious freedom and on judges, we fully expect him to keep his pledge … to the American people,” Faith and Freedom Coalition founder and chairman Ralph Reed said at the time.
Fully 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump.
Here’s a look at how he fared on some of the issues they most care about in his first year of office.
Evangelicals in the White House
Just this week, the Senate narrowly approved Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Catholic, as U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.
Brownback shares conservative evangelicals’ views on same-sex marriage and abortion. And he’s one of many high-ranking evangelicals in the Trump administration: Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Vice President Mike Pence are just a few with evangelical bona fides.
Other high-ranking, religious conservative leaders have reveled in their “unprecedented” access to the White House, including dinners in the Blue Room, prayer sessions in the Oval Office, and daylong listening sessions at the next-door Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The Johnson Amendment
“I will get rid of, totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear,” Trump announced at his first National Prayer Breakfast.
One executive order and a proposed provision of the tax reform bill later, not much has changed practically. But some evangelicals still point to Trump’s actions on the issue as further proof that he is listening to them.
Trump’s order directed the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors and churches from endorsing a candidate from the pulpit without potentially losing their tax-exempt status. But since the IRS only has investigated a handful of churches in recent decades, and only one has lost its nonprofit status, one legal expert said it amounts to “pretty much nothing.”
Only Congress has the authority to repeal the amendment. And while the House’s version of the Republican tax bill lifted the restrictions for houses of worship and all nonprofits, it didn’t make the final cut.
Immigration and refugees
“When it comes to his very strong statements on life, on support for Israel, on the Iran nuclear deal, on religious freedom and on judges, we fully expect him to keep his pledge … to the American people.” — Ralph Reed
After calling for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S., Trump has signed executive orders temporarily suspending the refugees program, banning Syrian refugees and restricting travel to the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries and giving preference to refugees claiming religious persecution. He confirmed to CBN News he saw persecuted Christians as a priority.
Those orders have met with mixed reviews from the courts, as well as from conservative Christians, many of whom are involved in refugee resettlement through faith-based agencies including World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the days before the election, evangelist Franklin Graham told RNS that he wasn’t focused “on his potty mouth or her missing emails,” referring to Trump’s language and his Democratic rival’s trouble over an email server. Rather, Graham said, “It comes down to the Supreme Court, and who do you trust to appoint to the Supreme Court?”
Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat left by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Conservative evangelicals were thrilled with Gorsuch’s nomination and subsequent confirmation, as well as his vote with the majority in the 7-2 decision favoring Trinity Lutheran Church in its case against the state of Missouri, in which the church claimed religious discrimination after it was denied a grant to improve its playground.
This month, Trump declared himself the first sitting president to address the March for Life — which is not entirely true. He is the first president to address the march via satellite. Previous presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had phoned in.
In his introduction to Trump’s brief remarks, Vice President Mike Pence praised him as “the most pro-life president in American history.”
But that also is not entirely true, RNS columnist Charles C. Camosy wrote last fall.
Buoying evangelicals, many of Trump’s appointments hold anti-abortion views, Camosy pointed out. Last week, the Trump administration announced the creation of an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who oppose abortion. And one of his first acts as president was to reinstate a rule banning U.S. funding for nongovernmental organizations abroad that advocate for or counsel women on abortion. That rule, though, since the Reagan administration, has come and gone depending on whether a Republican or Democrat sits in the White House.
But Trump, who had strongly supported abortion rights until he did an abrupt about-face during his run for president, has not yet kept his campaign promises to defund Planned Parenthood. Neither has he moved to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion in most circumstances. He also had pledged to sign into law a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that the House has passed but that still awaits Senate approval.
Evangelicals have long lobbied for the U.S. to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Congress also called for the move in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995.
Every president since has granted repeated six-month waivers, keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv.
Trump, like others before him, made moving the embassy a key campaign promise, one he reiterated in December when he declared the U.S. would “finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” Pence confirmed during a recent trip to Israel that the move will happen in 2019.
The president’s sudden announcement on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military came two weeks after some evangelical leaders had met at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for daylong briefings. It was among numerous topics discussed that day and, while they don’t take credit for the decision, some praised it as “courageous” and “heartening.”
However, the president’s ban has been blocked in the courts.