About 100 evangelical leaders were invited to dinner at the White House Monday night for what was a prayer-filled event that's been compared to a church camp meeting and a campaign rally.
Dubbed a "state dinner" for evangelical leaders, the event was held specifically in the "honor of evangelical leadership." The dinner was attended by dozens of evangelical pastors, evangelists and activists who've been involved in informally advising the administration including well-known figures like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Greg Laurie.
The dinner was also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Ben Carson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The event was officially hosted by first lady Melania Trump.
"We are here today to celebrate America's heritage of faith, family and freedom," Trump told the crowd. "As you know in recent years, the government tried to undermine religious freedom (referring to the Obama Administration) but the attacks on communities of faith are over. We're ending it."
Trump recounted the promises his administration has kept to a conservative evangelical base that played a role in helping him win the 2016 presidential election.
The president went on about how his administration has taken several steps to protect religious liberty for conservatives who object to things like abortion or gay marriage, his administration's pro-life victories and how the administration has spoken out about worldwide religious persecution.
Trump took a moment to recognize Dobson and his wife, Shirley on their 58th wedding anniversary. Trump concluded by telling the crowd that they are "very special people."
Jack Graham, the senior pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, who has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told The Christian Post that Trump opened up the mic during dinner to allow evangelical leaders in the room to speak their minds.
What ensued, Graham said, was about 35 to 40 minutes of pastors expressing their appreciation for what the Trump administration has been able to do to progress a socially conservative agenda in the last 18 months. While Christians are often called to speak "truth to power," Graham said the leaders in the room felt called to speak "love to power."
"They were getting up and saying what we appreciate and care about, expressing our faith and our love. It was very similar to a meeting that you would have at a church," Graham said, adding that it was like a testimony meeting. "With that many preachers and Christian leaders in the room, we believe the spirit of God was very present. Scripture was shared, verses were given to the president. The truth was delivered and love was delivered."
In a statement, Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk radio, said the dinner was "wonderful" and unlike any event he has attended at the White House before.
"I have served five presidents in the past 38 years and this was perhaps the most exciting event in that time," Dobson said. "The president spoke first and thanked us generously for the support we have given to him and his Administration since his inauguration. At least 15 ministers and leaders then rose to thank Mr. Trump for keeping his promises during the campaign and since his inauguration."
"Great appreciation was expressed for defending the sanctity of human life, for preserving religious liberty, for the quality of judges appointed, for his defense of Israel, for his support of the military, for ending the Johnson Amendment that had denied the church freedom of speech, and many other issues for which we are grateful," Dobson added.
The meeting comes after a similar dinner involving about 40 to 50 evangelical leaders was held at the White House last May before the National Day of Prayer.
The difference between Monday's dinner and last May's dinner, Graham said, is Monday's dinner was far less structured and allowed for more of a "conversation" between the leaders and the president.
"It was basically like a state dinner in the way that it was organized with the president, vice president, members of the cabinet and so on," Graham explained. "It was the first time that anyone knows about ... a sitting president of the United States that has gathered evangelicals at a state-type dinner."
The meeting drew the ire of some left-leaning critics. Some have claimed that the event was nothing more than another attempt by Trump to pander to his evangelical base. Others will claim prematurely that this meeting is for the purpose of setting up a Sunday law. Let us watch and be ready, occupying till He comes (Luke 19:13).
Some might argue that the evangelical dinner is an attempt to distract from the troubling news last week of Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and claiming that Trump ordered him to arrange a hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet over an earlier affair she had with Trump (we denounce adultery in whatever form it takes).
Graham explained that he received an invitation for the event at least six weeks ago.
"I know some are saying that given the events of last week, the president is just trying to get his boys together. This has been planned for a minimum of six weeks," Graham said, admitting that the event was "timely" given the "very tough week last week."
"In providence in the plan of God, this was planned weeks ago," Graham said. "Tonight was the night and it was a very special night with a very special leader and his wife with some great people in that room who are working hard for our churches and our communities."
Somewhere between condemnation for everything Trump, and blind support for all that he does, is a middle ground where we should support his Administration when they do good things, and chide them for unbiblical actions. And above all, pray for our leaders and one another.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12).