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In Contrast To Business Councils, Trump's Evangelical Advisers Stay Put


President Trump, this week, disbanded two business advisory councils and dissolved another before it even met. This came after some business leaders resigned because of Trump's remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. But the president's evangelical advisory council is sticking with him - no resignations, no criticism. Let's talk about that with NPR's Tom Gjelten, who covers religion. Good morning, Tom.


GREENE: What's the difference here? Why do you see evangelical advisers staying with the president when you see these business advisers just coming out and breaking their ties?

GJELTEN: Well, one thing is that his official evangelical advisers were with Trump throughout the campaign. They were allied with him politically. That wasn't true for the business advisers. They weren't necessarily supporters. Their role was to share their views on business issues. You could also say that business and religious leaders see their responsibilities differently. Business leaders are sensitive to outside pressure. They have to worry about their customers, their stockholders. Keep in mind, David, how quick many companies are to respond to boycotts, for example.

GREENE: Yeah, that's a good point. I mean, I guess religious leaders just have very different things on their minds.

GJELTEN: Well, they say they see their role more as ministers, as counselors - at least that's what I've heard speaking to some of the evangelicals who have been close to Trump. You know, I pointed out that, of all people, you'd expect the president's religious advisers to have a pretty clear moral compass. So why hasn't a single one resigned in protest over Trump's objectionable comments on Charlottesville? Here's the response I got from one of the advisory council members, Dr. Johnnie Moore.

JOHNNIE MOORE: We believe it would be immoral to resign because, as faith leaders, we have been given an opportunity to speak directly to various members of the administration to provide not just policy counsel but personal counsel. We're personally involved in the lives of all these people, praying for all these people, answering their questions.

GREENE: OK. So he explained there why he wouldn't resign. But have any of these faith leaders have anything to say about how the president handled Charlottesville?

GJELTEN: Well, I went, one by one, through each of these advisory group members, what they'd had to say. And their comments fall into three categories. Some have said nothing at all. They've just kept quiet. Some have defended the president, saying he said all the right things. The others explicitly condemn the white supremacists in much sharper terms than the president used. But still, they stopped short of criticizing Trump himself.

And by the way, I'd say that goes for many evangelical leaders who've been generally supportive of Trump. One example is Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women of America (ph). You've had her on this program several times. She has advised the president on social issues. As an evangelical, here's what she had to say about the Charlottesville marchers.


PENNY NANCE: This hateful, insidious ideology coming out of the KKK, coming out of the neo-Nazis, these white supremacist group is antithetical to Christianity.

GJELTEN: A very typical statement, David.

GREENE: And typical, it sounds like - evangelical leaders saying things like that - but not taking on the president himself.

GJELTEN: Not directly. I should point out, however, that before the election, one member of Trump's evangelical group did resign. That's Pastor James MacDonald. This week, he did take on the president in a Facebook post. He said he wasn't going to name names, but it was clear who he was talking about. He said the greater your influence, the greater your complicity if you don't call the Charlottesville attack what it was, a heinous act of domestic terrorism rooted in racial hatred.

And then he said this.


JAMES MACDONALD: It's the height of hypocrisy to demand that people use the term Islamic terrorism then turn around and refuse to use similarly candid terms when referring to racial hate crimes, which need to be condemned in similarly stark terms.

GJELTEN: But again, David, he broke with Trump way back in October.

GREENE: OK. NPR religion correspondent Tom Gjelten - Tom, thanks.

GJELTEN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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