In Donald Trump, Evangelicals Have Found Their President

Last August, President Trump sat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and looked me straight in the eyes. With a look of reflection and purposefulness, he discussed his upbringing and fondly recalled a vivid childhood memory from the 1950s: watching Billy Graham sermons on television with his father. “My father was a fan of Billy Graham,” the president said. He recalled how his father, Fred, attended the historic 1957 New York City Crusade.

Mr. Graham, who died last week at 99, brought both evangelism and evangelicalism into the mainstream of American culture. Meanwhile, young Donald grew to be successful, wealthy and famous — culminating with his becoming the leader of the free world. In the process, he too brought evangelicals somewhere, a place so many would have never imagined: an embrace of Donald Trump.

Of all the questions surrounding the current president, perhaps the most perplexing is this: How could evangelicals get behind a man like Mr. Trump, especially well-known conservative leaders who both treasure and champion morality? Constant news reports paint a picture of an out-of-control, angry, mentally unstable, reckless president who is prejudiced against all of humanity except white people with modest incomes and out-of-date values. But after interviewing scores of evangelical leaders, I have developed a different perspective.

Most of the world, and even most reporters, know only the public side of President Trump. In private, evangelical leaders have come to recognize a more compassionate side.

For example, Mr. Trump took a car ride with Mike Pence along with Billy Graham’s son Franklin and Tony Perkins, a leading figure on the Christian right, during the Louisiana floods of 2016. Impressed by what Franklin Graham’s Christian ministry had done for flood victims, Mr. Trump told him that he was writing it a six-figure check, which Mr. Graham told him to send to Mr. Perkins’s church. Both men were moved by his impulsive kindness, and a bond was formed.

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