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Gainesville pastor Jentezen Franklin discusses role as an evangelical adviser to Trump
Free Chapel leader says GOP nominee was 'attentive,' responsive in 3-hour initial meeting
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Jentezen Franklin speaks about his role as an evangelical adviser to Donald Trump during an interview Monday at Free Chapel’s main campus in Gainesville. Franklin has led Free Chapel as pastor for nearly 25 years, seeing it grow to include campuses nationwide. For Franklin, whose ministry includes a national TV program, “Kingdom Connection,” his work on the evangelical committee began several months ago with an invitation via phone call from the campaign. The evangelical committee, comprising 15 prominent pastors and others, gathered with Trump around a long conference table. - photo by Erin O. Smith

It’s a meeting Jentezen Franklin describes colorfully, but the person at the center of his story — newly minted GOP presidential contender Donald Trump — is anything but short on color.

Trump entered the room at Trump Tower in New York with his mother’s Bible and began to lay out his Christian history in the meeting with evangelical advisers. Raised Presbyterian, Trump recalled his father taking the family to Billy Graham crusades.

The billionaire businessman proclaimed he was a Christian, saying he rededicated his life to Christ at age 60, said Franklin, senior pastor of Gainesville-based Free Chapel.

“He did say ‘I don’t wear my religion on a sleeve and I’m not, by any means, a saint,’” the pastor said with a slight chuckle. “But (Trump said), ‘What America needs now is not a preacher in the oval office — it needs a leader.’”

Franklin talked in-depth about the recently formed evangelical committee he is serving on and Trump’s candidacy in general during a sit-down interview last week at Free Chapel at 3001 McEver Road, just south of Browns Bridge Road.

“I see my role on the committee as representing the evangelical community in general, but also the voices of the men and women in my church and every church that can’t be heard by Mr. Trump or be in that circle,” said Franklin, who has led Free Chapel for nearly 25 years ago, seeing it grow to include campuses nationwide.

For Franklin, whose ministry includes a national TV program, “Kingdom Connection,” his work on the committee began several months ago with an invitation via a phone call from the campaign.

“They made it clear (serving on the committee) was not an endorsement but that it would be basically a listening session,” he said. “(Trump) was interested in the concerns and fears of the evangelical community.”

The initial meeting was scheduled to last an hour but went on for three. The group, comprising 15 prominent pastors and others, gathered with Trump around a long conference table.

Trump “was very attentive,” Franklin said. “He has one persona on television, but when you get in a room with him, he’s actually a very good listener. And the people who were there spoke very bluntly — I would even call it, at times, confrontational.

“We understand that anytime we get those kinds of calls from politicians, it’s got to do with votes, too.”

The group could continue to meet monthly until the Nov. 8 election.

However, if he’s elected, “he has indicated that he absolutely wants to have an ear to the evangelical community through this executive committee,” Franklin said.

The 54-year-old pastor said he would serve on the same type of committee for Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, if asked.

“I would love to have a voice at her table on issues such as pro-life, religious liberties, standing with Israel,” Franklin said. “These are vital things for the evangelical community. These are things we live for and care for deeply.”

Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate in the 2012 presidential election, “didn’t invite (evangelicals) to the table, and that’s why 4 million evangelicals did not vote,” the pastor said. “I think Mr. Trump understands there’s a real force in the evangelical voting bloc.”

“For too long, our voice has been silent,” Franklin said. “We’ve sat back and watched ... anarchy in our streets. We see families and lives and things happening in our nation, and the church can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and be silent.”

Asked whether he supports Trump, Franklin said, “For me, it’s an easy lift when I think of things like the Supreme Court and whom he has promised us that he would be put on it — pro-life judges, pro-religious liberty judges — versus what Hillary would do.”

Clinton “has done nothing but just, in my view, (been) anti-everything that we stand for and believe.”

“I don’t endorse everything (Trump) says and does,” Franklin said. “I totally disagreed with him on the comment he made about the judge over Trump University. When we get into these meetings with him, those are the kinds of things we talk about.”

Franklin was referring to U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who presided in a case involving Trump’s real estate business education venture, the now-defunct Trump University. When pressed over a comment that the Indiana-born judge was Mexican, Trump suggested Curiel wasn’t able to be objective because of his ethnic background.

“You’ll never find everything you want in a candidate, so we have just to look at the bottom line,” Franklin said.

Trump’s campaign has said executive board leaders were not asked to endorse Trump “as a prerequisite for participating on the board,” his campaign states.

“Rather, the formation of the board represents (Trump’s) endorsement of those diverse issues important to evangelicals and other Christians and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

“I have such tremendous respect and admiration for this group and I look forward to continuing to talk about the issues important to evangelicals, and all Americans, and the common sense solutions I will implement when I am president,” Trump has said.

“I’m glad that we are there,” Franklin said. “I’m glad we can represent the single mother who’s struggling, that we can be a voice for the Hispanic and African-American communities and for the schools.

“When you think about Catholic hospitals that are being sued for not performing abortions, we’re in a time that we’ve never seen in America before, and that’s why I think this committee is very important.

“I believe in freedom for everybody — live and let live and if you choose not to believe, that is your American right and I’ll fight for it. But on the other hand, don’t encroach upon my deep-core beliefs and faith and tell me I have to do this or do that.”

Franklin said he no longer is “on any party’s side.”

“I’m going to stand for the scriptures and the Bible, morality and just decency, freedom and law and order.”

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