Donald Trump isn’t exactly a Sunday School poster child.
He recently told a group of Iowa conservatives that he’s never asked God for forgiveness, he referred to communion as “my little wine” and “my little cracker,” and he refused to tell one reporter what his favorite Bible verse was and whether he preferred the Old or New Testament.
But while Trump’s comments may sound tone-deaf and stilted to some audiences, there’s one Christian subculture where he fits right in: televangelists.
The real estate mogul will huddle next month with a group of of hair-teasing, microphone-toting, prosperity-promising prophets of the quick buck. Though the meeting isn’t officially billed as a campaign event, it’s widely reported as part of an effort on Trump’s part to reach the faithful (and, in this case, the gullible).
And it suits him.
Trump palling around the televangelist world of get-rich-quick promises, multiple marriages, and questionable coiffures is, well, perfect. His decision to host these leaders at Trump Tower in Manhattan suggests he may see faith the way he sees other endeavors: as a way to lure big audiences with glitzy promises that are less than reality-based. Much like his outreach to the more mainstream evangelical community, he’s been connected with the televangelist set for quite a while.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news of the meeting, reporting that Trump is huddling with “a group of Evangelical Christian leaders at his office” on September 28. The event is being arranged by no run-of-the-mill evangelical, though; its reported host is televangelist Paula White.
And attendees got their invites from a public relations expert who specializes in boosting televangelists’ profiles. Sheila Withum of Withum & Co. Media Ministry Development Consultants, who sent out the invitations last week, told The Daily Beast her group has been representing televangelists for about 30 years—managing their public relations, helping them get airtime, and helping produce broadcasts.
White, who hosts a TV show called Paula White Today on The Word Network and pastors New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, is one of the most prominent and controversial televangelists on the tube, drawing massive audiences and a congressional investigation. She took the helm at that church after its former shepherd died of a heroin and cocaine overdose.
Trump and White have been friends for years, which makes sense because they have a lot in common. In addition to having their own popular TV shows, they’re on their third marriage—Trump’s to former model Melania Trump, and White’s to the keyboardist for Journey.
Trump has been a guest on her programming numerous times, and they seem to be big fans of each other. He’s called her “a beautiful person, both inside and out,” and recommended that viewers read her book You’re All That: Understanding God’s Design For Your Life so they would “be ready for great success.” White has compared him to “a diamond that reveals a new facet each time it is turned in the light,” according to The Tampa Tribune.
White, like Trump, is also a big fan of cash. She’s typically characterized as a proponent of the prosperity gospel—a theologically suspect approach to Christianity whereby pastors (often before huge congregations or on TV broadcasts) tell listeners that God wants them to become very wealthy, and that if they just give “a seed” to said pastors’ ministries, they’ll reap great financial returns and be #blessed. White’s e-store features a sermon called “Why God Wants You Wealthy.” Of course, Donald Trump wants people to be rich as well, which is why White once offered her viewers—for a ministry contribution of $25—a copy of Trump’s book Why We Want You to Be Rich. Everyone wants you to be rich! Praise the Lord!
White’s website has all sorts of interesting deals. One (your correspondent’s personal favorite) is called the “2015 Atonement Package.” The would-be atoned receive a special CD and booklet, as well as “a beautiful miniature ornate Ark of the Covenant” and a banner with Psalm 91:4 written on it. All those goodies will be yours if you “sow a prophetic ‘COVER AND SHIELD’ seed offering of $914.”
The two TV stars are quite public with their shared affinity for money. In 2007, they both appeared at a “Real Estate and Wealth Expo” in Atlanta.
“Pastor Paula White will explain why God wants you to be wealthy,” said a press release for the event, which also promised that Trump would teach attendees how to get and stay rich.
White’s shady ministering attracted the attention of the U.S. Senate in 2007. That year, Senator Chuck Grassley started a three-year investigation into six televangelism ministries, including White and Daily Beast favorite Creflo Dollar. None of the ministries investigated faced penalties or sanctions.
A second ministry that faced Grassley’s scrutiny will have a face at the meeting with Trump next month. Benny Hinn, a prominent prosperity-gospel televangelist, also was named in that investigation. And he was named on the Trump invite.
“Due to previous travel commitments, Pastor Benny Hinn is unable to personally attend; however, a senior representative of his ministry will be present,” said Ronn Torossian, a spokesman for Benny Hinn Ministries.
It might have been awkward if Hinn attended. He and White caused quite a hubbub in 2010 when paparazzi photographed the the two TV preachers walking through Rome hand-in-hand—despite the fact that he was married to someone else at the time. Hinn insisted the two had not known each other biblically.
“A friendship did develop,” he said after the news broke, according to Charisma Magazine. “Hear this: No immorality whatsoever. These people out there are making it sound like we had an affair. That’s a lie.”
He did ask his congregation for forgiveness, though, and said he told White they couldn’t be friends anymore.
Visitors to Hinn’s site will find lots of opportunities to plant money-seeds that will definitely blossom into future wealth, as well as enlightening reads like “50 Critical Cancer Answers” and “How to Dominate the Prophetic Realm.” One wonders what the prophetic realm has to say about President Trump’s first 100 days.
This meeting could end up feeling more like a reunion than anything else. Darrell Scott, a pastor from Cleveland who has a congregation of 5,000 as well as a TV ministry, will also be among Trump’s visitors on September 28.
It won’t be his first time meeting the mogul. Scott said he met with Trump at Trump Towers four years ago, along with his wife and two other ministers. He said they prayed for Trump and that he was impressed with Trump’s humility.
“He humbled himself to the prayer,” Scott told The Daily Beast. “When I say he put himself in a position of humility, he did. And he didn’t have to do it. He was no different from anyone else that we prayed for in any of our churches on any Sunday.”
“He was in agreement with the prayer and he said ‘Amen’ like we did at the end,” Scott added.
Not everyone is convinced Trump is part of the flock.
One prominent evangelical leader said the mogul first became a presence in conservative Christian circles in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential elections—but that he always sounded a little awkward.
“He doesn’t speak evangelical,” that leader said, “because he’s not one.”
But Trump shouldn’t stress about that too much. He seems to speak televangelist just fine.