Donald Trump is meeting with black pastors in New York on Monday amid controversy over whether they plan to endorse the billionaire businessman’s presidential bid.
His campaign released a statement last week trumpeting a meeting between Trump and a “coalition of 100 African American Evangelical pastors and religious leaders who will endorse the GOP frontrunner after a private meeting.”
But several black pastors invited to the gathering quickly rebutted the endorsement talk, forcing the cancellation of a planned press conference and leaving Trump in an awkward spot.
Asked about the apparent reversal on MSNBC on Monday, Trump said the confusion did not take away from the meeting, which he said was initiated by the group of religious leaders.
“I was told it was an endorsement, and that’s fine, whether it is or not, that’s fine,” Trump said. “I think having a meeting is a good thing.”
Nevertheless, he said he expects some will be Trump supporters, and several pastors on their way into the meeting backed him up.
“I have no idea what the meeting is; I have a great relationship with the black pastors, I know many of them, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “I think probably it will be an endorsement by some.”
“I’m here in total support,” said Steve Parson, a black pastor from Richmond, Virginia. “You want stories, you want controversy. Anybody who knows Donald Trump personally knows that he’s not a racist.”
“A formal endorsement is forthcoming,” said Darrell Scott, the organizer of Monday’s meeting. “The African-American community needs to be ashamed of themselves of the way they’ve reacted to our meeting with Mr. Trump. They accused Mr. Trump of being an insulting individual but they’ve levied insults at us that I wouldn’t levy against people I hate … They don’t know the Donald Trump that we know.”
Several of the pastors involved in the meeting have said online they they plan to endorse Trump. Campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said Monday that it would have been too “confusing” to explain that not all 100 pastors were backing Trump.
“Well that is confusing that all of them will be endorsing,” she told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day.” “However, it’s probably going to be more than 100 that are going to be at this meeting. It’s a coalition meeting. Some of these pastors were not going to be endorsing to begin with. Now if the campaign had said that some of them won’t be endorsing, it was, it’s just way too confusing.”
Still, several invitees said they were surprised by how the event was advertised as an endorsement.
Bishop Clarence McClendon, a Los Angeles-based pastor who like Trump has appeared on reality television, said he was invited to the meeting but will not attend.
“The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but a meeting to engage in dialogue,” he said Friday on Facebook.
“The Preachers of L.A.” star said he will not make up his mind to endorse until January 2016.
Bishop Corletta Vaughn, Senior Pastor of The Holy Ghost Cathedral and a star of the Oxygen reality series “Preachers of Detroit,” said she was invited to the meeting but will not attend nor endorse Trump.
“Trump is an insult and embarrassment. But he represents the country we have become,” she said Wednesday on Facebook. “ZERO experience … Flaunting a ticket of unbridled bigotry, sexism, racism and everything that is wrong with America.”
The Trump campaign explained its cancellation Sunday and its decision to bar media from the event.
“On Monday, Mr. Trump will host an informational meet and greet with many members of the Coalition of African American Ministers. This is not a press event, but a private meeting, after which, a number of attendees are expected to endorse Mr. Trump’s campaign for President,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said.
Trump on Monday blamed Black Lives Matter protesters for the controversy.
“Everything I do gets publicity, and probably some of the Black Lives Matter folks called (the pastors) up and said, ‘You shouldn’t meet with Trump,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “I do think there was pressure put on them.”
Bishop Paul S. Morton tweeted Friday that he refused to meet with Trump, calling the candidate disrespectful.
“I was asked 2 meet with Mr Trump too but I refused because until he learns how to respect people you can’t represent me thru my endorsement,” the founder of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship tweeted.
Morton told CNN’s Carol Costello Monday that even if his fellow pastors refused to endorse Trump, they should be careful about being perceived as endorsing him merely by showing up.
“I would say to our pastors that we have to be careful because perception unchallenged breeds reality. And the people, that’s all you need is a picture, all you need is pastors lined up, you really don’t have to endorse. But if they got that perception, then the people that we are trying to help and take to the next level are misunderstood,” Morton said.
The announcement has been met with criticism from some black pastors given that it came days after a Black Lives Matter activist was physically assaulted at a Trump rally.
In an op-ed in EBONY magazine published Friday, pastors, seminary professors and Christian activists critical of Trump asked the group backing the candidate to consider the impact that endorsing him could have on their congregations.
“By siding with a presidential candidate whose rhetoric pathologizes Black people, what message are you sending to the world about the Black lives in and outside of your congregations? Which Black lives do you claim to be liberating,” the leaders wrote.