January 2016 Church & State | People & Events

In an effort to court both African American and religious voters, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a meeting recently with a group of black ministers in the hope that they would endorse him. But thanks to bad publicity, many of the invited pastors refused to even attend the gathering – let alone back the controversial contender.

In late November, Trump’s campaign announced that he would hold a summit of sorts with 100 black pastors at his posh Trump Tower in Manhattan. Following that meeting, there would be a press conference, during which the ministers were expected to endorse Trump.

As word got out about the meeting, pastors began distancing themselves from Trump, who is known for his incendiary rhetoric and often racially insensitive remarks.

“The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but as a meeting to engage in dialogue,” Los Angeles-based Bishop Clarence McClendon wrote on his Facebook page.

Another minister, the Rev. Corletta J. Vaughn of Detroit, told The New York Times that when she saw her name on a flyer touting the event, she got worried about what her congregation would think.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Vaughn said. “That would kill me. My constituency would murder me. There is no way in the world I can [endorse Trump].”

Trump himself played coy about the supposed endorsements, saying before the meeting, “I don’t know if it’s an endorsement. I don’t know if it’s an endorsement by some, I think probably it will be an endorsement by some.”

He also blamed the bad press on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I think what happened probably is it gets publicity, unfortunately…everything I do gets publicity, and probably some of the Black Lives Matter folks called them up and said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be meeting with Trump because he believes that all lives matter,’” Trump said on MSNBC. “We’ll see what happens.”

Despite that negative publicity, Trump nonetheless went forward with the conference on Nov. 30, although he repackaged it as a meet and greet with religious leaders. Afterward, he claimed 100 leaders attended and said he felt “great love in the room.”

“I thought it was an amazing meeting,” he said following the conference. “The beautiful thing [was] that they didn’t really ask me to change the tone. I think they really want to see victory, because ultimately it is about, we want to win and we want to win together.”

Americans United pointed out that under federal law, houses of worship may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates. Pastors have the right to endorse candidates as private citizens, but they may not use church resources to promote anyone’s candidacy.