Not everyone on the board endorses Trump—but they’ve agreed to consult with him as he continues to reach out to an evangelical movement solidly split between the already on-board, the hesitant, and the decidedly #NeverTrump.
Some of the 25 figureheads on Trump’s board have relationships with him that go back several years. Some first connected at earlier campaign events targeting clergy. The breadth of his list serves as a reminder of the wide reach of American evangelicalism, from the institutional leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention to the prosperity gospel preachers made famous through Christian TV programming.
Below are brief explainers on each of the evangelicals who have signed on to influence the theology of Trump:
The Big Names
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family
Who he is: Dobson led national Christian ministry Focus on the Family from its founding in 1977 through 2003. He now hosts a radio program called My Family Talk. He also founded the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group currently led by Tony Perkins. Dobson, a pioneer Christian psychologist, has penned dozens of books about family life. His wife, Shirley, was the head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force until this year, when she handed over the reins to Anne Graham Lotz.
His evangelical ties: Dobson’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all pastors in the Church of the Nazarene. Dobson and the organizations he launched are household names among American evangelicals, synonymous with “family values” stances. He has arguably been the most influential leader in the relatively leaderless evangelical movement, CT noted in 2005.
His beliefs and politics: Dobson endorsed Ted Cruz in December, saying the Texas senator had “the moral and spiritual foundations to lead our nation with excellence.” Dobson has criticized President Obama’s recent remarks regarding transgender bathroom access, his position on abortion, and the Obamacare contraception mandate. He has always made pro-life issues a priority, writing for The New York Times in 2006 that if neither major party nominates a pro-life candidate, family values voters would choose a third-party one. He wrote: “Winning the presidential election is vitally important, but not at the expense of what we hold most dear.”
His Trump ties: Dobson previously stated that after Rubio and Trump “announced they would accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, we knew we could not support them.”
Update: In an interview, Dodson said he had reason to believe Trump had recently accepted Christ. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian,” he said.
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University
Who he is: Falwell Jr. is the oldest son of late Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell. He succeeded his father as president and chancellor of Liberty University after Falwell Sr.’s death in 2007. Falwell Jr., a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, had previously worked as a lawyer and general counsel for the university and Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour program. Though Liberty continues to host political candidates at its weekly convocations, Falwell Jr. is comparatively less vocal, activist, and public-facing than his father.
His evangelical ties: Falwell Jr. carries one of the biggest family names in American evangelicalism, and has led the country’s biggest evangelical university through unprecedented growth. His brother Jonathan succeeded Falwell Sr. as pastor of Thomas Road Baptist, the 24,000-member Southern Baptist church located on campus. Falwell Jr. still occasionally involves himself with his father’s Religious Right networks; in 2010, he joined James Dobson, Richard Land, and John Hagee at a political rally organized by Glenn Beck.
His beliefs and politics: Falwell Jr. is a fiscal conservative and has criticized President Obama’s economic policies. He is also an advocate of the Second Amendment, allowing and encouraging students to carry guns on campus following last year’s attack in San Bernardino, California. Falwell Jr. endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2007.
His Trump ties: Falwell Jr. was among the earliest evangelical leaders to endorse Trump, saying during the candidate’s campus address in January that the business mogul “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the Great Commandment.” He also said the Republican nominee “reminds me so much of my father,” who once advised Falwell Jr. that when he went into the voting booth, he was not electing a pastor, but a president. Falwell Jr. and Trump have been friendly since Trump’s convocation speech at Liberty in 2012, and Falwell Jr.’s son married at a Trump Winery about an hour from campus.
Richard Land, seminary president and Southern Baptist leader
Who he is: Land served as president of the Southern Baptist public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for 25 years, until he was succeeded by Russell Moore (a vocal Trump opponent). Land was named president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in 2013.
His evangelical ties: During his ERLC leadership, Land was considered the chief spokesman for Southern Baptists and, more than that, a culture warrior and “one of the few remaining scions of the Religious Right.” He stepped down from his position after making controversial remarks on his radio show regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
His beliefs and politics: For most of his career, Land refrained from endorsing political candidates, but made an exception for Romney, who was running against Obama in 2012. The Texas native served nine years on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, having been initially appointed to it by President George W. Bush.
His Trump ties: While his successor has deliberately warned followers against a “lesser of two evil mindset,” that’s not the approach Land is taking. “If we don't help the lesser evil prevail over the greater evil, we become responsible morally for helping the greater evil to prevail,” said Land, who predicts a close and ugly campaign. (Following the advisory board announcement, he explained his decision to join, though not endorse, Trump: “Is it not our spiritual obligation and responsibility to speak biblical truth in love to all who will listen?”)
Paula White, Florida preacher and televangelist
Who she is: Paula and her former husband Randy White founded Without Walls International, a Tampa megachurch which grew to 25,000 members over 15 years. In 2007, the couple separated as the church underwent a US Senate investigation. Later, White and televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn admitted their friendship had turned inappropriate following her divorce, though White denied having an affair with Hinn. She is now married to former Journey musician Jonathan Cain and leads New Destiny Christian Center, a multi-ethnic congregation outside Orlando. Her popular TV show also draws in a racially diverse viewership, airing both on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and Black Entertainment Television (BET).
Her evangelical ties: White is among America’s most well-known prosperity gospel preachers. While 17 percent of American Christians openly identify with the movement, the “health and wealth” gospel gets dismissed and critiqued by most mainstream evangelical leaders. White admires fellow televangelist T. D. Jakes, whom she considers her mentor in the faith. She has appeared alongside leaders such as televangelist Kenneth Copeland, New York pastor Chris Durso, Lakewood worship leader Israel Houghton, and Jesus Culture singer Kim Walker-Smith.
Her beliefs and politics: Though White generally stays out of politics,, she was the one who coordinated September’s meeting between Trump and several televangelists, including TBN founder Jan Crouch, who died last month.
Her Trump ties: White says she and Trump have been friends for 15 years, and recounted giving him a letter from Billy Graham for his 60th birthday. At the meeting in Trump Tower last year, White cited Isaiah 54 in praying that “any tongue that rises against him will be condemned.” She also spoke at a 10,000-person rally in Florida, telling the crowd that Trump “needs to be our next president.”
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, charismatic Texas ministers
Who they are: The Copelands have been in ministry for more than 45 years. Their daily television program, which is available on Christian networks and their website, has been broadcasting since 1989. Kenneth Copeland Ministries is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, where the couple’s “1,500-acre campus includes a $6 million church-owned lakefront mansion,” jets, TV and production studios, and a church building. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland were among the televangelists targeted in a 2007 Senate investigation, and more recently, the couple’s tax-free ministry status was mocked by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver.