The Newnan Times-Herald


Evangelical presence in Trump administration tops list

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Jan. 12, 2018 - 7:28 AM

Evangelical presence in Trump administration tops list

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Vice Pres. Mike Pence and his wife Karen – along with John Eddy – speak at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. At the time, Pence was governor of Indiana. He is one of the most visible evangelicals in Pres. Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Conservative evangelicals' support of and strong representation in President Donald Trump’s administration was voted the top story of 2017 in the Religion News Association's annual Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year Poll. 

The story picks up where the 2016 Top 10 poll winner left off — with grassroots support of Donald Trump from white evangelical Christians helping the television personality and business mogul win the White House. 

Donald Trump was selected as the Religion Newsmaker of the Year after his inauguration triggered upheaval across a number of religious fronts, among them the role of evangelical support of his administration; fierce debates over Islam, race and religious liberty; the appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; and executive orders relating to immigration and terrorism. In RNA’s 2016 poll, Trump was runner-up in the Newsmaker of the Year category, behind Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim Gold Star parents of the late U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan.

The Trump campaign bus visited Coweta County in 2016, and there was a Trump campaign headquarters on Madison Street. Trump had strong support locally at the polls.

The complete Top 10 list appears below, along with headlines ranked 11–27.

Religion News Association members have voted in the annual poll for decades. RNA is an international journalism association for journalists who write about religion in the news media. It offers training and tools to help reporters cover religion with balance, accuracy and insight.

1. Conservative evangelicals gain strong representation in the Trump administration, notably with Vice President Mike Pence, and on the president's informal religious advisory body. Trump maintains strong grassroots support among white evangelicals, polls show.

2. A white supremacist march features racist, anti-Semitic slogans and symbols in Charlottesville, Va. Religious groups join the counter-protest. A marcher is charged with ramming counter-protesters with a vehicle, killing one, injuring several.

An anti-white supremacist march was held at the Coweta County Courthouse soon after the Charlottesville events.

3. A U.S. travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations sparks protest and tumult at airports before courts delay it and later versions of the ban. Trump vows to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism," a term predecessors avoided, and retweets incendiary anti-Muslim videos.

4. President Trump breaks precedent in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital while calling for continued access to Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites. Israeli leaders and U.S. supporters applaud while others warn the move threatens peace efforts.

Local residents, like those across the country, ranged from those who saw the decision as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy to those who worried the decision could destabilize the region.

5. Myanmar security forces drive more than half a million Muslim Rohingya to Bangladesh in a campaign of atrocities. Buddhist-majority clerics stoke the hostility. Acquiescence of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi dismays former backers of the Nobel laureate.

6. A gunman kills 26 adults and children at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Gunmen also claim lives at or near churches in Tennessee and California.

Churches in Coweta County and elsewhere across the country reviewed security procedures following the shootings.

7. Roy Moore – Alabama’s one-time "Ten Commandments judge" – wins the GOP nomination for U.S. senator with a vow to revive "knowledge of God & the Constitution." He retains broad evangelical support despite allegations of misconduct with teen girls and women.

The RNA survey ballot was distributed Dec. 8, before the Alabama general election. Democrat Doug Jones defeated Moore in that election.

8. Fulfilling a key goal of their religious voters, Trump and GOP senators place numerous conservatives on U.S. federal courts, notably Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who echoes predecessor Antonin Scalia’s feisty voice from the right.

9. Black NFL players cite Christian faith in kneeling to protest racial injustice. Southern Baptist and Mormon leaders issue statements against alt-right and white supremacy. Confederate symbols are removed from Washington National Cathedral and other churches.

Local reaction to “taking a knee” ranged from laudatory to extremely critical. The removal of Confederacy statuary made news. A statue of Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis, who visited both Palmetto and Newnan in the 19th century, was removed in New Orleans, and Davis’s statue in Richmond was vandalized.

The images of Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at Stone Mountain were also political fodder in 2017.

10. Lutherans and other Protestants mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31 with books, ceremonies and seminars on Martin Luther’s mixed legacy as a religious revolutionary. In an ecumenical era, Catholics join in marking the event.

Several local churches recognized the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Stories that missed the cut:

11. The Trump administration backs religious-liberty exemptions in LGBT and other cases. Its Supreme Court brief supports a Christian baker who refused to decorate a cake for a gay wedding. It ends the Obamacare contraception mandate on faith-based employers.

12. Hate crimes rise against Jews, Muslims and other minorities. Six are slain in a Quebec mosque. An Indian man is killed in Kansas. Bystanders are killed and wounded defending targets of attacks in Kansas and Oregon. Dylann Roof is sentenced to death for a 2015 church massacre in Charleston, S.C.

13. The #MeToo campaign, highlighting widespread sexual assault and harassment, prompts #ChurchToo and other introspective looks at offenses by male religious leaders and against female clergy and other women in religious settings.

14. A religious left – a coalition of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others – mobilizes against Trump policies on climate, LGBT, taxes and other fronts. Democrats debate if their party has room for abortion foes. Religious minorities gain in some elections across the country.

15. Faith leaders protest as the Trump administration ramps up immigration detentions, ends the DACA path to legality for "Dreamers" and slashes refugee admissions. The United States offers aid to Mideast refugee Christians and other minorities it says the United Nations neglects.

16. The Islamic State’s three-year reign of horror in its self-proclaimed caliphate nears its end as U.S.-backed and government forces retake much of its territory in heavy fighting in Iraq and Syria. IS remains a potent threat as a landless insurgency.

17. Pope Francis seeks to boost peace efforts in Colombia, Egypt and Myanmar; canonizes child visionaries on Fatima centennial; faces critics on issue of communion for the divorced and remarried; and raises local bishops' role in liturgical translations.

Members of St. George Catholic Church held a prayer vigil in October to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Fatima miracles.

18. More than 3,000 migrants are killed in Mediterranean crossings while fleeing conflicts, many with religious dimensions, in Africa and Asia. Anti-migrant fervor, mixed with hostility to Muslims and Jews, fuels right-wing gains in several European elections.

19. Church sexuality debates continue. An evangelical coalition’s Nashville Statement opposes gay marriage and fluid gender identity. A Catholic seminary cancels a talk on LGBT dialogue. A United Methodist court says consecrating a lesbian bishop broke church law.

20. Extremists, including the Islamic State, are blamed for attacks that claim mass casualties in Kabul, Mogadishu and Istanbul, with religious minorities massacred at Sufi Muslim and Coptic Christian sites in Egypt and at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan.

21. Faith-based organizations aid victims of devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas; wildfires in California and an earthquake in Mexico. Houses of worship help with relief and cope with damage.

22. The high-tech, $500 million Museum of the Bible opens in D.C., aiming to fascinate, educate and – some say – evangelize. Hobby Lobby, owned by the Green family, who funded the museum, pays a $3 million fine for illegal imports of Iraqi antiquities.

23. Saudi Arabia rescinds some restrictions on women, including driving. Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman vows to foster a moderate Islam but is accused of a dictatorial power grab. The U.S. backs a Saudi-led Sunni alliance to curb Shi’a rival Iran.

24. Terrorists in the West draw on Islamic State strategy and inspiration, using vehicles to kill eight civilians in New York City’s Lower Manhattan and more in London, Stockholm and Barcelona. A bomber kills 22 and injures hundreds at a pop concert in Manchester, England.

25. Sex abuse crises continue in the Catholic Church. An archbishop and 13 priests in heavily Catholic Guam are accused in nearly 100 lawsuits. Cardinal George Pell, once a top adviser to Pope Francis, is charged with sexual offenses in his native Australia.

26. President Trump signs plans to shrink two Utah national monuments, a move he calls a victory for local autonomy but which Native American leaders and clergy allies decry as imperiling sacred land. The Dakota Access pipeline opens despite tribal protests.

27. Diaspora Jews protest Israeli government's reneging on a plan to allow a spot for mixed-gender, non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. The Israeli chief rabbinate lists foreign rabbis whose authority it won’t recognize in certifying emigrants’ Jewish identity.

Runners-up to Trump for Religion Newsmaker of the Year included Luther, Moore, Pope Francis, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, William J. Barber II, Paula White-Cain and  Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark.

Barber, a North Carolina-based Disciples of Christ minister and Moral Mondays founder leads a movement that has mobilized to fight Trump administration policies on poverty, the environment and other issues

White-Cain, a Florida-based Pentecostal pastor, is a longtime friend and spiritual adviser to Trump and one of the most visible evangelical leaders on his informal religious advisory team. Cupich and Tobin  are “point men for Pope Francis,” according to RNA, in leading his pastoral, social-justice agenda in the U.S. Catholic Church.