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Black Pastors to Trump: Our Meeting Is Not an Endorsement

When a group of black pastors agreed to meet with Trump on Monday, they did not anticipate that meeting would turn into a de facto endorsement of the Republican frontrunner.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty

The majority of a group of prominent African-American ministers scheduled to meet with Donald Trump on Monday are making clear that they have made no commitments to endorse the real estate magnate. Their public declarations of non-endorsement come after a press release from the Trump campaign announced a coalition of 100 African-American religious leaders will appear with the real estate mogul shortly after the meeting to endorse him.

Bishop Clarence McClendon, a Los Angeles-based minister who was invited to the Monday meeting with clergy, posted to Facebook after the Trump campaign announced the coming endorsements.

“I am not officially endorsing ANY candidate and when I do you will NOT need to hear it from pulpitting courtjesters who suffer from intellectual and spiritual myopia,” he wrote.

Bishop Corletta Vaughn, the senior pastor of the Holy Spirit Cathedral of Faith in Detroit, posted a message on Facebook after she said her inbox was “blowing up with inquiries” after her name was included on a list of pastors meeting Trump.

“Let me be clear,” she wrote. “I was invited to attend a gathering of clergy to listen to Mr. Trump on Monday November 30. I respectively (Sic.) declined as I do not support nor will endorse Donald Trump.”

“I was asked 2 meet with Mr Trump too but I refused because until he learns how to respect people you can’t represent me thru my endorsement,” Bishop Paul Morton, a prominent pastor in Atlanta tweeted on Friday.

The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about which ministers will endorse him on Monday.

In fact, of the pastors scheduled to meet with Trump earlier in the day, so far only one, Pastor Darrell Scott, has said he will attend the press conference to endorse Trump.

In an interview with The Daily Beast on Friday, Scott said that he had organized Monday’s meeting between Trump and black clergy, but that his invitation was for them to meet with Trump, not to endorse him.

“Some of these pastors have never even met Trump yet,” Scott said. “They told me, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to endorse yet. I want to see him and I want hear his heart.’”

Some might not endorse Monday, he said. Some might not endorse at all.

“All of these guys are my friends and they know me,” he said. “I let them know I am endorsing, but that doesn’t mean you are endorsing.”

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The Trump camp’s own announcement that 100 black ministers will endorse Trump has been greeted in the black faith community with a combination of confusion and anger, particularly after a week in which Trump has mocked a New York Times reporter with a disability, suggested that a black protester who was kicked and punched at a Trump rally in Alabama “deserved it,” and when Trump himself has suggested Muslims be surveilled at certain mosques.

Recent polls show Trump getting between 3 and 10 percent support from African Americans. Trump has assured his crowds he will win the black vote.

“The 100 pastors they say are endorsing Donald Trump? I don’t know where those 100 are coming from,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant, a prominent AME pastor based in Baltimore. Bryant, who earlier this year ran for Congress as a Democrat, said he had spoken with a number of the pastors attending the Monday meeting who were taken aback by the Trump announcement about the endorsements. “I don’t know what policy these pastors could mobilize around. I can’t find a strand of any policy he has that the larger black community would be respond to.”

Bryant said that he finds Trump’s larger message to minorities to be disturbing and troubling. “It’s a cross between Archie Bunker and reality television,” Bryant said. “It’s frightening and unnerving that the Republicans would be at this point with him as their frontrunner.”

Bishop Wiley Jackson, the founder of the Gospel Tabernacle Cathedral in Atlanta, called Bryant’s comments “a serious accusation" and stressed he was not going to New York to endorse Trump.

“I want to address an upcoming meeting, now Pastor Jamal Bryant, made an assumption from a flyer…now I was asked to be of a coalition of African-American pastors, who were to meet with the presidential candidate Donald Trump by a friend, nowhere on the flyer does it mention an endorsement of Mr. Trump or any candidate for that matter,” he said in a video on his YouTube page.

Bishop George G. Bloomer, senior pastor of Bethel Family Worship Center in Durham, North Carolina, in a press release on Friday blamed “marketing by the Trump campaign” to cause people to jump to the wrong conclusion.

“I have never publically endorsed a presidential candidate in the past, and it is unlikely I will do so in the future,” he said.

Dr. Cindy Trimm, a motivational speaker and author based in Georgia, confirmed she was attending the meeting in a Facebook post on Saturday but stressed was not going to endorse anyone.

“I have not yet endorsed any candidate for the presidency of the United States. I am attending this meeting for a greater cause—unity,” she wrote.

Orrin Pullings Sr., presiding pastor of the United Nations International Church Fellowship, also took to Facebook to declare he wasn’t heading to Trump Towers to endorse the mogul.

“A local NBC News Crew just left my office inquiring about the Donald Trump Pastors meeting that will be held this Monday in New York City,” he wrote Saturday. “I made it clear to them that this meeting is NOT a TRUMP ENDORSEMENT, instead an opportunity to express my community’s issues and concerns in America.”

In response to a question from The Daily Beast’s Goldie Taylor on Twitter, Bishop Victor Couzens, an Ohio-based minister, tweeted he was meeting with Trump for the “same reason early leaders met with oppressive voices. We can't speak to the narrative from outside the room.”

He later tweeted, “politically nothing draws him to Trump He puts people down. He's vague with his policies. Not substantive.”

Still, Scott said he expected there would be “a number” of pastors endorsing Trump, but did not know who or how many. He described his own reasons for endorsing Trump as personal, political, and spiritual.

He considers Trump a friend and said that his message resonates with him personally. Scott also said that Trump has never offered him money, as many have suggested, nor would he accept it.

“If God raises up somebody who can speak the word of God to Trump who he will listen to, and God feels I can help provide an avenue for him to have a dialog with African Americans, then I embrace that position,” Scott said. “If that does happen, it’s God that did it.”

Contributing: Jackie Kucinich and Goldie Taylor