By Ken Stone
The senior pastor of an East County megachurch wrote an endorsement of Donald Trump that has been viewed megatimes. Even in Spanish.
“I would rather deal with a church attendee who is blatant and brash in his sinning than one who is devious, lying, cunning and deceptive,” said Jim Garlow, referring to Trump and then Hillary Clinton.
Garlow says it never occurred to him that his piece would attract that much attention, “except that I wrote back to Bonnie, ‘Thanks to you, I’ll have 10,000 more people mad at me. LOL’”
In the column, Garlow wrote: “The Democratic and Republican party platforms are as different as night and day … as far apart as evil vs. good.” He called Democrats’ stands “anti-biblical” and Hillary Clinton “wrong on 100 percent of the issues.”
Trump is right on about 75 percent of the issues, Garlow wrote. But the pastor wouldn’t try to defend “any” of the things the New York businessman has said.
“There is no need to rehearse the wrong things,” Garlow said. “We know what they are.”
Garlow endorsed Newt Gingrich during the 2012 primaries and in 2016 first backed former Gov. Mike Huckabee and then Sen. Ted Cruz (giving the invocation at the Texan’s April rally in Mission Valley).
He says he’s met Trump twice, “both [being] only nanosecond greetings, basically photo-ops.” But he took part in an August conference call with Trump and 15 evangelical leaders.
Politically active for years and a leader of the Prop. 8 drive in 2008 to outlaw same-sex marriage in California, Garlow spent time last week in Washington, D.C., promoting his new book “Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Issues.” (He calls for “biblical applicationalism.”)Garlow didn’t attend the Value Voters Summit last weekend in Washington, but met with attendees for breakfast, said Tracy Burger, his administrative assistant at the Rancho San Diego church.
Trump spoke at the summit, though, and promised he would get rid of the so-called Johnson Amendment, the 1954 addition to the tax code that bars political activity by 501(c)(3) nonprofits like churches.
Even though it’s rarely enforced, churches fear losing their tax-exempt status if clergy endorse or oppose political candidates.
Garlow, in fact, is a leader in the Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement — which encourages clergy to make political statements to congregations once a year in defiance of the IRS.
Overseen by the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the freedom-to-speak effort took place on specific fall days in recent years. But Garlow aide Burger said no specific date has been set this year.
Garlow was en route Tuesday to Israel for two weeks, the church said, and wasn’t available for further comment on Trump. But Burger told Times of San Diego: “He has no formal title with the campaign at all.”
Not everyone in the evangelical community agrees with Garlow, though.
At 1,670 words, Kevin Baird’s response to Garlow on the Trump endorsement is longer than the original column.
Baird, state field director of the Indiana Pastors Alliance and founder of the South Carolina Pastors Alliance, wrote: “If it’s permissible to use a novice Christian as president of the United States but not as a deacon in your church, then please explain to us how mature our candidates should be.”
(Baird says he’ll vote for either Darrell Castle or Tom Hoefling.)
In April 2012, Beck spoke at Skyline Church, urging clergy to take election stands during that year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday in early October.
“Preachers, stand up!” Beck said in the 2,500-seat sanctuary. “The church is the key to keeping this ship … going the right way, using the stars and the heavens to navigate by. If you don’t stand up, we lose.”
In late August, Garlow shared details of his conference call with Trump.
“At one point in the conversation, [Trump] used a phrase that was by his own words stated ‘jokingly.’ I was aware of the phrase as I knew he had used it when speaking to a group in Florida and one time since.”
The phrase (which Garlow wouldn’t divulge) wasn’t offensive, but was considered “theologically wrong.”
“When he stated it on the call,” Garlow said, “one of the Christian leaders immediately corrected him theologically. Mr. Trump received the correction. Teachability is a lost art in much of present-day culture, but he demonstrated it perfectly. The issue here is that he was not defensive, but received the correction.”
Garlow said he suspected that Trump has “heeded correction” from campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, whom the pastor called “my friend.”
Trump was grateful to Garlow for the Charisma Magazine endorsement column.
“I had no intention of speaking up on the call,” Garlow said, “but one of the persons referenced my ‘Trump vs. Hillary’ article going viral and that it had had a million ‘shares.’ At that point, I spoke up, explaining that it was in the 900,000s.”
Garlow wrote: “Mr. Trump responded with ‘I have read it, Jim, and I thank you for writing it.’”
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