As Ben Carson began surging past Donald Trump in two recent Iowa polls, Trump started openly questioning Carson’s religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. But Trump has faced questions about his own religious convictions throughout the presidential campaign.
When he was asked about his faith at an Iowa forum this summer, he referred to Holy Communion as “my little cracker.” Trump later told reporters in South Carolina that he still attends Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. But the Dutch Reformed Protestant church once led by Norman Vincent Peale released a statement specifying that Trump is not an active member, although his parents were members for many years. Even calling himself a Presbyterian, the religion he was confirmed into as a child in Queens, has confused people who knew of the Trump family’s lengthy relationship with the Dutch Reformed church.
But one man of God says he does not doubt Trump’s commitment to his Christian faith—Pentecostal Pastor Darrell Scott, a former drug dealer-turned-born-again Christian minister who has become Trump’s impromptu liaison to black ministers across the country.
“Donald Trump has a consciousness of the presence of God, and I really believe he has a consciousness of the hand of God in this,” Rev. Scott said of the role of Trump’s religion in his presidential run. “He recognizes the importance of bringing God into this environment with him. He's acknowledging it, he's very open about it, and it is what it is.”
The relationship that has developed between Trump and Scott speaks volumes about the road both men have traveled to get to this point, one from the streets of Cleveland and the other from New York's most elite circles, to find themselves praying together that God will show Trump the right path for his future.
Thirty-three years ago, Scott, 57, was selling crack cocaine on the streets of Cleveland when he said his life turned around. One night he sent his wife around the corner to get a bottle of rum and she returned hours later as a born-again Christian, having been convinced to go to church by a neighbor. She came home and said, “I got saved. Now you’ve got to get out.” Months later, with his wife’s encouragement, Scott became born again himself. “I flushed the drugs down the toilet and the rest is history.”
Today Scott and his wife run the New Spirit Revival Church, a network of Christian ministries based in Cleveland. A fellow pastor introduced Scott to Trump five years ago as Trump first considered a run for the White House. Scott recalled: “He solicited prayer then and he said, ‘Pray for me that I'll make the right decision. And pray with me that God leads me in the right direction that he wants me to go in.’”
At the time, Scott said he was surprised how different the private Trump seemed to be from the man he’d seen on television. “I went back and told my church and said, ‘Y’all aren’t going to believe it, but the best way to summarize it is that there is a humble man,” says Scott. “Very, very, very humble.”
Scott stayed in touch with Trump through Michael Cohen, a longtime Trump adviser, and called when Trump announced his presidential run four years later. “As soon as I heard Mr. Trump was running, I called Cohen and said, ‘Let’s get the preachers in a room and saddle up the pony and let’s ride!”
Trump's camp accepted as he continued to step in it whenever religion came up. Favorite Bible verse? Pass. Old Testament or New? Meh. Best book ever? The Bible, followed closely by The Art of the Deal. For a man running to lead a party where evangelicals often decide the winner, Trump’s God-free candidacy was becoming a problem.
In October, Trump met with about 40 clergy, including black ministers whom Scott had gathered. The meeting lasted 2½ hours and, not surprisingly, the video of it went viral with the image of Trump holding a Bible—and megachurch pastors holding him, all praying to God from the 26th floor of Trump Tower.
“He was asked very directly, ‘Are you Christian?’” Scott recounted about the private portion of the meeting. “He said, ‘Yes, I am.’ Do you believe in Jesus Christ? ‘Yes, I do.’ Do you pray? ‘Probably not as much as you guys.’ That was honest.”
Trump wouldn't be the first politician to B.S. preachers, especially black pastors, to win an election, but James Davis, a pastor from New Spirit Church in Akron, Ohio, said he doesn’t think that’s what’s going on. “My radar was on to sense whether or not this was fake, because we as black pastors get it. We get called every four years. The politicians come into our pulpits and we never see them again,” he said. “So I was looking for that type of politician and it wasn’t there. He was genuine. We got to hear his heart.”
But several black ministers, including Scott, told Trump he has work to do with black Americans. “The black ministers stated that there was a disconnect between Mr. Trump and the black community, and that he had been depicted as a racist against not just blacks, but Latinos as well and Mexicans in particular,” Scott said. “There was a breach that needs to be filled and the best way to do that is through the black church.”
Scott worked to arrange another meeting of ministers with Trump in Atlanta 10 days later and asked Trump to focus on the black church. “They found him very hospitable, very engaging, very charming, very down to earth,” Scott said.
James Davis also said he and other pastors began to think Trump could improve the black communities if he became president. “What needs to happen in our area is the creation of jobs,” Davis said. “As a builder and an executive, it’s a no-brainer for him.”
But not all in the black community see Trump as a potential savior or think the pastors should be meeting with him at all. Scott said he's been called an Uncle Tom, a sellout, and much worse since the video of the Trump meeting got out. “It’s funny, but it’s not,” he said. “I’m not trying to persuade black people to vote for Donald Trump. I want black people to make up their own minds, instead of allowing their opinion of him to be determined by hearsay.”
Backlash or not, Trump and the black pastors have another meeting set up for Nov. 30, in Trump Tower to talk about issues in black communities. “But knowing Trump,” Scott said, “It will probably go on longer.”