I hope church and religious historians are taking note. 🙂
Great reporting here from Adelle Banks at Religion News Service:
(RNS) — The White House held calls with religious leaders last week to encourage their support of its guidelines for addressing the coronavirus, gathering more than a thousand people on three phone calls.
President Donald Trump took part in at least one of the calls.
“On Friday, President Trump joined Vice President (Mike) Pence for a call with hundreds of faith leaders to discuss the latest health guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus,” a White House official told Religion News Service. “Last week, the White House hosted three phone calls with more than 1,200 inter-faith leaders from across the country. President Trump encourages Americans of all religious backgrounds to do their part to stay healthy and stop the spread.”
When Trump briefly took part in the Friday call, he addressed the pending election as well as the pandemic.
“We have a pretty wild world out there, both in terms of people that are opposed to what we believe and what we think and also with respect to this whole new virus that came upon us so suddenly,” Trump said during the few minutes he was on the call.
The Centers for Disease Control guidelines related to faith-based groups have shifted over time. They now include advice to “Cancel or postpone in-person gatherings or move to smaller groupings” and “Cancel or modify smaller gatherings (e.g., religious education classes), where persons are likely to be in close contact.”
But Trump also told a Fox News town hall Tuesday (March 24): “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, which organized the Friday call, wrote about it on the conservative Christian group’s website and included a link to the hourlong discussion that featured Pence and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson along with, Perkins said, 700 pastors.
Trump thanked the leaders for their prayers for the country. But when asked by Perkins, who hosted the call, what he most wanted pastors to pray for, the president sought petitions for the country’s health and strength and “that we make the right choice on Nov. 3.”
“It’s a big day, Nov. 3; that’s going to be one of the biggest dates in the history of religion, as far as I’m concerned,” the president said before Perkins asked for Trump’s prayer requests. “We have to keep aware of that ’cause as we fight this (virus), people are forgetting about anything else.”
Among others on the Friday call were Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said Jon Wilke, spokesman for the committee.
“The president did speak and encourage pastors to continue ministering,” Wilke said.
According to Steven Martin, communications director for the National Council of Churches, a council staffer who was also on the Friday call gave a different account.
“He indicated that the call was not about sharing information or engaging faith groups, but more about praising Trump and trying to change the narrative that Trump had dropped the ball and not taken this pandemic seriously early enough,” Martin said of his colleague. “In his words, the call ‘seemed to be more like a time for Trump’s faith surrogates to praise Trump rather than to truly reach out to faith communities.’”
Read the rest here. The quote from Steven Martin of the National Council of Churches is revealing.