Donald Trump is now a born-again Christian, if you believe antigay figurehead James Dobson.
The founder of Focus on the Family, creator of a group for so-called conversion therapy, and founding member of the Family Research Council — an antigay “hate group,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — told the website “Godfactor” that Trump is a “baby Christian” who had only recently accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior. Dobson said he knows the person “who led him to Christ.”
Among born-again Christians, you must be “saved” by saying a prayer that formally invites Jesus Christ into your heart. It’s called being saved because anyone who doesn’t do it is believed likely to be going to hell.
Much of how President George W. Bush captured such vigorous support from evangelical voters can be attributed to his own claim of having been born again. In a famous exchange with the moderator during a primary debate in 1999, Bush said Christ had “changed my heart.”
MODERATOR JOHN BACHMAN: “What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?”
BUSH: “Christ, because he changed my heart.”
MODERATOR: “I think that the viewer would like to know more on how he has changed your heart.”
BUSH: “Well, if they don't know it is going to be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart, it changes your life, and that's what happened to me.”
Some heard that confession as a political calculation to win over voters, but either way it worked, because evangelicals immediately felt they’d found one of their own.
Dobson is part of the who’s who of antigay figures that Trump named to his Evangelical Executive Advisory Board on Tuesday. In his interview with Godfactor, Dobson assured the interviewer that Trump is now born again, and asked fellow evangelicals to cut the billionaire some slack while he learns.
"I think he is listening. There were a lot of people ministering to him personally. A lot of ministers,” Dobson said of a small group meeting held at Trump Tower. “He did accept a relationship with Christ, I know the person who led him to Christ. That’s fairly recent.”
The interviewer, Michael Anthony, sounded surprised at the news in audio of the interview and asked when the conversion had happened.
"I don't know when it was, but it has not been long,” said Dobson. “I believe he really made a commitment, but he's a baby Christian. We all need to be praying for him, especially if there's a possibility of him being our next chief executive officer."
Trump isn’t a natural match with evangelicals, not with having called an opponent a “pussy” from the podium at a rally, or with any of his other crass comments. But Anthony compared him to the apostle Paul, who was essentially a murderer before being converted by a vision of Jesus Christ.
"I think that he's open,” Dobson said of Trump. “He doesn't know our language. You know we had 40 Christians together with him and he used the word hell four or five times. He doesn’t know our language, he really doesn't, and he refers a lot to religion and not much to faith and belief in Christ.” Dobson added, “You've got to cut him some slack. He didn't grow up like we did. I think there's hope for him, and I think there's hope for us. I have great concerns about the next election."
Chuck Todd asked his guest Paul Manafort, campaign chairman for Trump, on Sunday whether Dobson was right that Trump is now a born-again Christian.
“I’m not going to speak to Donald Trump and his embrace of religion,” said Manafort. “You talk to him about that.”
So Todd asked again, slightly differently, and got the same answer. “You have to talk to Mr. Trump about his embrace of Christianity. That’s not for me to speak to.”
It wouldn’t be hard for Trump to confirm what Dobson is saying. He could just tweet about it, but he’s busy right now on a trip to Scotland where he’s promoting a golf course he owns.