One megachurch pastor says he was “undecided” about then-candidate Donald Trump when the GOP nominee asked the faith leader to be part of the Trump faith advisory board last summer. However, after meeting with the president a few times, the pastor has a clear impression of the leader.
In June 2016, Trump announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board, and Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel Church based in Gainesville, Georgia, was on it. The pastor first made headlines as one of Trump’s advisers when he told the Gainesville Times in late July that Trump, raised Presbyterian, had rededicated his life to his Christian faith at 60 years old.
“He did say, ‘I don’t wear my religion on a sleeve, and I’m not, by any means, a saint,’ ” Franklin said. “But [Trump said], ‘What America needs now is not a preacher in the Oval Office — it needs a leader.’ ”
And in a sit-down interview this week with WXIA-TV, Franklin opened up about his four meetings with Trump and the faith advisory board’s bi-weekly phone calls with the White House.
“To be honest, the first time I met with him, I went in very undecided and wondering, ‘Why am I here?’ When I sat down with him and heard him — he does care,” he said. “He does care about the poor, he does care about the community.”
Franklin, a self-described conservative, told WXIA that he has strong pro-life convictions and was encouraged by Trump’s choice of Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
However, Franklin did emphasize the importance of being compassionate when it comes to immigration reform — a hot-button issue for Trump.
“The precious Hispanic mother with her children who is crying and saying, ‘I am afraid.’ Well, she doesn’t have a voice, so those of us who have been given the responsibility of leadership have to be the voice of compassion — because these people matter, they are not throwaways,” Franklin said. “We can do this in a way where we protect our borders and protect our citizens.”
“I know that conversation is going on,” he continued. “We need a pathway for these people contributing, being a blessing to society, good people. Let’s give it a little time, because I know those conversations are taking place.”
Franklin said he has brought that particular story — and others — to the president because “he listens.”
“I’m not here to defend him,” the pastor remarked. “I appreciate what he is doing in many cases, but I am here to speak for what I know as the truth.”
The Gainesville pastor preaches in front of a multicultural, diverse congregation. He told the local news outlet that he speaks out on the behalf of all the races represented at his church “because they are all precious in God’s eyes.”
Franklin said he “would be glad” to serve on a similar advisory board for former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, had she won on Election Day. He said those on different sides of the aisle cannot find unity “if we don’t talk.”
This Sunday, Franklin and several other faith leaders will host an event called “A Celebration of Unity” at Free Chapel Church to discuss violence and other problems plaguing many of America’s cities. Franklin said he hopes the discussion helps answer this question: “If I don’t talk to people who are different than me, how do I understand their world?”
“I believe that something good can come from all the division we are seeing and there is potential for America to be healed and for our cities to be blessed,” he said. “When you begin to listen, you begin to the see the middle ground.”