TV host Samantha Bee recently interviewed A.R. Bernard, the first preacher to leave President Donald J. Trump’s evangelical advisory council. Some interesting tidbits came from the interview.
As we’ve noted before, the Religious Right has unprecedented access and influence on the Trump administration, and Trump continues catering to their rhetoric. The evangelical advisory council has bimonthly teleconference calls, often with Trump administration officials participating. In return, the Religious Right has given Trump their loyal support despite him bragging of sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because he’s famous.
Trump has also repeatedly told his supporters that the Bible is his favorite book. But, as Bernard said in the segment with Bee on her TBS show, “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” Trump “doesn’t come across as someone who legitimately knows the Bible.”
Bernard, the founder of the 40,000-member Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, said by the second advisory board meeting, he knew he was not going to affect change or positively impact the Trump administration. He said that by being a part of the advisory council, he wanted to be a “minority voice at the table to help influence policy, ideas [and] initiatives.” He quickly figured out that his ideas would fall on deaf ears.
“Fast-forward to May of 2017, sitting in the blue room next to him [Trump] at a table having dinner. So I engaged him, and I seized a good 15-20 minutes to talk about the inner city,” Bernard said.
Bernard implied that he didn’t think Trump took much away from that discussion. But Bernard thinks there is much we can learn from the simmering divisions Trump and his supporters have uncovered: “This is not all bad,” Bernard said. “America has been exposed. We are being forced to have a conversation that we’ve needed to have since the Civil War… [Trump] ended up exposing the spiritual and moral condition of the nation.”
A last straw for Bernard was Trump’s comments blaming “both sides” for the violence during the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va. Back in August when he officially resigned from the advisory board, Bernard said in a statement that the Trump administration’s actions did not align with his values and that he quietly left the board months prior to the comments. Just before resigning, he also signed onto an Executive Committee of the Commission of Religious Leaders letter condemning white supremacism and vowing to speak up against it.
Screenshot of Bernard on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
“In a social and political climate such as ours, it often takes a gathering of unlikely individuals to shape the future of our nation on issues of faith and inner city initiatives,” Bernard tweeted in his statement. “I was willing to be one of those unlikely individuals and that is why I agreed to serve on the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board. However it became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.”
In his segment with Bee, he noted that members of the board should think about whether they should be risking their religious values in exchange for a seat at the table.
“You have to ask those questions – what you stand for, what you’re willing to fight for, and if you are in a situation where you can compromise those values. Better think carefully what you are given in exchange for your life, your reputation,” he said. “People are judging the [evangelical] council by their actions or their lack of actions.”
But with most of the evangelical council and Religious Right leaders backing Trump or remaining mum when it comes to his xenophobic and Islamophobic immigration policies or his tendency to continue to appeal to his “alt-right” and white nationalist supporters with discriminatory rhetoric, a problem continues to linger for the Religious Right as they unconditionally support Trump: They’re alienating people of color.
Issues such as these are why Bernard added that the evangelical council should hold Trump accountable.
“Put your relationship, your access at risk. Be willing to walk away. Be willing to demonstrate that you have a set of convictions beyond just your redemptive motivations for the soul. You have a responsibility to the nation.”