The last time Pastor Mark Burns advised Donald Trump, they talked about compassion.
The pastor was aboard the real-estate mogul’s private jet last week, flying from Mississippi to New York, where the two spoke about Trump’s upcoming appearance at another black pastor’s congregation in Detroit on Saturday.
“It is the first time he’s speaking in Detroit, to the African-American community, and the key word is ‘compassion,’” Burns told The Daily Beast in a brief phone interview. “I want them to get to know the same guy I’ve grown to know and love.”
Burns said one of the things that originally drew him to Trump during the Republican primary was Trump’s stand against the supposed “War on Christmas.”
“We’ve become so politically correct that Christianity has taken a back seat,” Burns observed.
For the past year, Burns has been Trump’s go-to campaign-trail pastor. And he has denounced Hillary Clinton, liberals, and political correctness in much the same provocative manner as the Republican presidential nominee.
So when Burns, a conservative black pastor, tweeted a cartoon of Hillary Clinton in blackface—“Black Americans, THANK YOU FOR YOUR VOTES and letting me use you again..See you again in 4 years,” he posted—it wasn’t out of character.
The pastor, a smaller-time televangelist who co-founded the South Carolina-based Christian TV network NOW, assumed the role of an official Trump surrogate shortly after meeting Trump at a closed-door gathering with various black pastors in New York City late last year.
Since then, Burns—or “Pastor Mark,” as friends call him—has gone on to become a key and very public fixture in Trump’s campaign. And it’s boosted Burns’s national profile more than he ever anticipated.
Over the past nine months, he has introduced Trump at multiple rallies and victory speeches, boosted him nonstop on social media, declared on-stage at the Republican National Convention that “all lives matter” (the popular, condescending retort to Black Lives Matter), and regularly made the cable-news rounds to deliver his full-throated defenses of his candidate.
According to Burns, he has advised Trump personally on a number of other occasions, on and off of Trump Force One.
“We talk in person, he’s a very open person—he is so accessible when we’re together,” Burns said. “Most of the time, our conversation is… heavily focused on the needs of people in our country, and what am I hearing as a pastor.”
As Trump’s trusted surrogate and happy culture-warrior, the pastor hasn’t been afraid to walk through fire for Trump—and he certainly hasn’t been concerned about bowing to any strains of “political correctness.”
In March, for example, Burns said Clinton wants a “genocide” against black Americans.
“It vexes me greatly how [African Americans] will stand behind [Hillary Clinton, who] is OK with the murders of babies,” Burns said on (of all places) The Alex Jones Show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump. He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind… a [Democratic] Party that is OK with the genocide of black people through abortion.”
(During that interview, Burns condemned Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that candidate Trump had previously praised as doing “wonderful things having to do with women’s health.”)
And while stumping for Trump early this year, Burns also alleged that “Bernie Sanders… doesn’t believe in God” and that “Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. He gotta have a come-to-Jesus meeting.”
(Sanders, Clinton’s former rival in the Democratic primary, is Jewish.)
Above all else, Burns wants Trump to help “#BringGODbackToThisNation,” a country where marriage is “between one man & one woman..!” In his eyes, the very idea of Christianity in America is “UNDER ATTACK” by Clinton and her fellow progressives.
Aside from the controversy—or, perhaps, because of it—the newfound, election-year fame that the Trump campaign has brought Burns is likely the best thing that has happened to his career. Before Team Trump came along, Burns wasn’t a voice on national political anything. He didn’t even have all that much regional pull.
“We have no record of Mr. Burns being involved with the Republican Party in South Carolina prior to this election cycle,” Hope Walker, executive director of the state’s GOP, said in an email. Burns’s acquaintances on the other side of the aisle can corroborate this.
“I met Mark along the  campaign trail—we’re both from South Carolina—but he wasn’t someone who was big on the scene in South Carolina politically or socially… he wasn’t a player,” former South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellers told The Daily Beast. (Though Sellers and Burns are diametrically opposed politically, Sellers said they have still “grown to become friends.”)
“But he’s making himself known now,” Sellers continued. “I think Donald Trump is a bigot and I do think those who support him are aiding in his bigotry. But as a man, I have nothing but respect for Pastor Burns… That is for him and his god to understand his relationship with [Trump].”
The loyalty Burns has shown Trump appears to be mutual, at least for now.
After Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski conducted an unfriendly interview with Burns on Friday, Trump went to bat for his campaign pastor, calling on MSNBC and Brzezinski to “immediately” apologize for their “coordinated gang attack” on Burns.
“One of the most appalling things I have ever seen on television,” Trump said of the interview.
Trump was sticking up for a man who has emerged as integral to his black voter outreach effort—as hopeless, minimal, and understaffed an operation as that may be. The Trump campaign’s black outreach wing is a team in search of an A-lister, with its current top billing including Omarosa, the former reality TV villain, and YouTube personalities Diamond and Silk, who in March talked up Trump on a legitimate neo-Nazi program.
“You have no idea how many African Americans and minorities really support Donald Trump,” Burns said on Fox News over the weekend. “There’s so many African Americans in this country that are going to be voting for Donald Trump in November.”
Maybe Burns knows something that pollsters in the country don’t. As of press time, Trump’s popularity with black voters is still somewhere in the low single digits. And the Trump campaign shows no sign of actively seeking to build meaningful inroads with black communities.
Nevertheless, from now until November, you can expect Burns to hit the trail and put himself in front of news cameras whenever Team Trump calls on him to do so.
“Until [recently], I have not been any more politically inclined than the average voter, in the past,” Burns told The Daily Beast of his enthusiasm for Trump’s candidacy. “And that in itself speaks volumes to the character of Donald Trump.”