Trump Spiritual Advisor Prays That The Door Will Remain Open
Rev. James Robison has been at the forefront of American evangelicalism for half a century. He was widely believed to be the natural successor to Billy Graham, who was the leader who encouraged Robison to deliver his message in the form of a regularly scheduled television program, which is what led to the popular show, Life Today. He has spoken in person to twenty million people in revival meetings around the world. He was one of the founders of the social conservative political movement, and the leader who was probably most instrumental in introducing Ronald Reagan to that movement and the movement to Reagan. He is the person who recommended that classic line from Reagan to the non-profit National Association of Evangelicals, “You can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.” He also was the most influential evangelical leader to begin to distance himself from the religious right a decade ago.
His new book, Living Amazed, although ostensibly a topic book, focused on amazing acts of God, reads more to me like a spiritual autobiography. The connection between the topic and the bio is that Robison’s life is, in itself, a miracle. The product of rape, he is alive only because the doctor refused to perform an abortion on his mother. Robison grew up in a highly unstable environment in and out of profound poverty. And yet, he has risen to the high places of American evangelical leadership. The book is largely a series of seemingly unlikely events which show the mark of Providence. The book contains many accounts of spiritual encounters with well-known figures: Ali, Graham, Pope Francis, Reagan, and most recently Mr. Trump.
The book was written during the election season, and its tone is one of great concern about our nation and its political culture. After writing the draft, he spent time with Trump and was impressed with the candidate’s humility. Don’t laugh: everyone whom I know who has personally met with Trump has told me something similar. Trump urged Robison to ‘surround’ him with good spiritual counsel. The day after the election, Robison was delighted to find that Trump was still taking his calls. Robison knew that he would take heat for meeting with Trump during the campaign season, but the way he sees it, the example which Jesus set was to be willing to meet with people who were treated as outcasts by the religious leaders of the day. If Trump is cast out of polite society by both the secular and religious clerics of our day, then so what? He deserves to have ‘truth in the room’ too.
Robison is convinced that Trump is putting the country first and has a genuine desire to fight for freedom. On the other hand, DC is a toxic place turned in upon itself. He had seen how (what he cleverly calls) ‘the Republican guard’ blocked evangelical leaders from having access to Reagan once he had been elected. Michael Deaver later apologized to Robison for that and told him he believed that if he and other establishment types had not insulated Reagan from wise counsel, Reagan could have been history’s greatest president.
Robison sees similar potential in Trump, but expressed concern a few times in our interview that the Washington political culture and its gatekeepers may try, as they did with Reagan, to block off the President from evangelical Christian leaders.
I wonder the same thing, not just about moral counsel, but about economic counsel as well. After reading this book, the question that I’m left with is this: When does ‘eating with sinners’ and wanting to make sure that ‘truth is allowed in the room’ start to bleed over into seeming like some form of endorsement, and when does perceived political support begin to run the risk of diminishing the moral credibility of a Christian right which is already suspected of putting power ahead of purity on purpose? My concern is not so much about counselors like Robison, but instead about religious leaders who supported Trump early in the process, and who later seemed to downplay some of the egregious behavior which was revealed as the campaign progressed.
I’m convinced that Robison is faithful to his principles, a pastor first and a political player a distant second. But I also think that the religious right in general has come out of the Trump election looking like kind of a cheap date for whoever happens to win the GOP nomination. I think this impression has taken hold particularly among young people.
Maybe you think I’m being naïve about Robison’s sincerity. If so, I’d say listen to the audio interview here, and then read the partial transcript (both edited for clarity) and form your own conclusion. I’d also challenge you to read the news and analysis web site he founded, www.stream.org, to see if he is walking his talk in terms of cultural renewal and working across denominational lines.
Jerry Bowyer: What I’m hearing is that if someone focuses on their natural gifts they are not going to see the full potential of what they can accomplish in the world. That, as you put it, yielded clay, (I guess that’s Romans 9 and Isaiah) that their natural gifts they’re unshaped, but if they yield to God then there seems to be no limit on what God can do through them.
Rev. James Robison: Well, interestingly, that was my prayer with Mr. Trump. I spent nearly a year, speaking into his life and praying with him, and praying that this great big lump of clay would be yielded totally to the master craftsman potter. And here’s a man who’s talented and gifted. And I try to show people that you may have natural gifts that came from God — every good and perfect gift comes from Him: the good gifts I think many people are born with that and don’t realize God instilled that in them. But when you get the perfect gift, that means you turn your natural gifts over to supernatural power.
And I said to the president after the State of Union, sir, you received me for a year as openly and with as much gratitude and appreciation and humility. And Jesus said if they receive you, they receive me. And I said, sir, if you’re receiving Jesus like you’ve been receiving me you’re going to become one of the greatest miracles the world has ever seen. And I believe that.
I believe that if he does that — and I made it very clear when I prayed that that clay would be in God’s hands. So here’s a person who’s very talented and who’s lived for himself, and now appears to be living for others, at least that’s what he says, and I believe that is his heart, it’s what he wants; he wants to help us in freedom. But the key is will this very effective man, this very outspoken individual, really yield himself to the divine supernatural direction of God.
Bowyer: You have mentioned President Trump. As I read this book, I realized that it was written before the election. I’m open to page 150 now, and you talk there about the political parties. And the tone is a little bit of ‘we’ve got a coarse culture and neither of these choices are very great’. And at some point, you began obviously to become more enthusiastic about Mr. Trump. When did that happen?
Robison: Well, when I saw the way he was receiving wisdom when I was in the room with him. And one of the strongest emphases I’ve made since he was president, is that he not only respects wisdom when it’s in the room — and by the way, if we don’t come to the table of reason and give the wisdom that comes only from God a seat at the table, we’re not going to be able to hammer out the issues we face effectively on that – the table of reason is the anvil of civil discussions. We’re going to have to have wisdom in the room and honor it. And right now, it’s going to be a real test of whether or not he’ll get people to come to the table of reason and invite wisdom from above to flow freely. That’s my continued encouragement to him.
I saw a man that, when he saw the greatness of God in an individual or individuals, it captured attention. I don’t think he’s captivated by religion or religious people, but I do think he’s captivated by a genuine love for God and love for others. And I think that he has actually become really deeply concerned about the future of freedom, and he wants the best for every American. And I don’t even think he’s thinking about his family. And I don’t think they’re thinking about themselves. That may shock people, but I don’t think they are. I think they’ve lost themselves in a desire to seek what’s best happen for America. And I’d say that’s a miracle.
And that’s why Christians need to keep praying. I saw a miracle of a man who was listening, and I watched the effect it had on him. And there’s no question about it, there’s no question that the truth has impacted him.
Now, is it still right there in the room with him all the time? Are there people who are stepping back now because he’s the president, or are they still going to speak truth, and is he going to continue to listen and honor it? I have the hope that he will. I’ve been amazed at the progress, but I still hold on for the will of God to be done not only in this man, but in the church, in the church leadership. Get Christians to the table.
That’s one of the amazing things in the book, is I talk about all these diverse spiritual leaders. And getting Christian leaders to the table of reason and with love is actually more challenging than Congress.
Bowyer: What About Ronald Reagan?
Robison: Ronald Reagan…the impact that one meeting had on him…read Jerry Naylor’s account. He took Buddy Holly’s place when Buddy was killed in a plane crash, he became the lead singer: he was very close to Reagan, events coordinator. You know, Nancy told me the next day something had happened when he was in a room full of people seeking God and said ‘I endorse you; you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.’ What happened to it?
Mike Deaver apologizing to me before he died. (He became a Christian.) He said “we” the Republican establishment, but I call him the Republican guard, kept Reagan from hearing the wisdom that would have made him perhaps the greatest president in American history. He said ‘We blocked that.’ That circle in Washington is so horrific that just tightens the grip on our leaders so that truth can’t even seem to get in the room.
Originally published on Forbes.