EXCLUSIVE: Q&A With Pastor Michael Anthony On Trump, Christianity, and Religious Freedom
Pastor Michael Anthony, president of Godfactor and founder of the National Week of Repentance, helped make news last week when Dr. James Dobson made the stunning announcement to Anthony in an interview that real estate mogul Donald Trump had found Christ after meeting with evangelical leaders. Dobson has since walked back those comments, but Anthony had some interesting things to say about Trump's meeting in a conversation with The Daily Wire.
The big news is James Dobson saying that Trump is a recent convert to Christ. Do you believe that to be true?
Well, I know that Dobson said that because I got the interview. Whether or not that is true is something that I think only Mr. Trump can answer.
I think that my purpose was simply to report a story that would have been a rumor prior to that. With no ability to track the source of the rumor, I'm very grateful that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. They say that success is when preparation meets opportunity. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture a story.
I have no opinion of if it's true or false. My only concern is that there was an opportunity to bring to the national stage this question of what it really means to follow Jesus Christ and to surrender to him, so I don't have a personal opinion about whether the story itself is true. I just know that something has been said that has created a national dialogue that is desperately needed.
So what exactly does truly following Christ entail?
I think our nation is used to nominalism, that people can be associated with Christ and be part of a denomination, for example, but that does not necessarily mean that someone has personally surrendered their life to Jesus Christ as their savior, God and master. For somebody to accept Christ, it means that they have personally asked him to forgive them of all their sins, that they're acknowledging that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and then instead of that being out there nebulously for the world, they are now saying I want this for myself. I want Christ for myself. He has got the Father's provision for the forgiveness of sins. Instead of me just knowing about that, maybe going to church, maybe participating in religious ceremonies, I now am accepting Christ on a personal level for the forgiveness of my sins.
I'm looking at your interview with Cortney O'Brien. You discuss how different Trump seemed to you in the meeting because of his body language and his posture. Could you speak more about the meeting with Trump and what you saw from him?
I'm very well aware of Mr. Trump's reputation and the criticisms of him saying one thing to suit a particular audience, and in one sense I think all politicians do that to a certain degree. What I observed last week was a very interesting demeanor of him, very different than what you see in most media outlets, and that caught my attention, and I saw that behavior prior to that interview.
That interview was done at the end of the day, and so I...found an interesting different side in his demeanor that seemed to be more docile and seemed to be more gentle than I had seen before. And whether or not that means he gave his life to Christ, I have no idea. Only God knows that, you know?
Throughout the election cycle, Trump has come across, at least at times, as this nasty and divisive figure, so it's interesting that you got to see this gentler side of him that a lot of the public may not be aware of.
Well, yeah...I wish other people could have had the opportunity that I had to be there. And that's one of the reasons why I accepted the invitation, because it was a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes without media. People have been criticizing that there's no media there. Well, I think that's what makes it all the more interesting, the fact that there was not media there, so therefore I think there would have been a greater propensity –- and I'm not saying there wasn't posturing, please make this clear too –- but there is a greater propensity for posturing if you know that what you say is going to be reported. And the fact that there were not media there, I think, makes his posture and his demeanor and his vocal inflection, I would say, more interesting, at least it was to me.
If I was invited to a similar meeting with Hillary Clinton, my answer is already yes. I would move Heaven and Earth in my schedule in order to be there. My understanding is that United In Purpose has invited her for a similar meeting, but they have not heard back from her yet.
One of the things that also struck me here was how much Trump emphasized religious liberty with you guys. What exactly was he saying about religious liberty that impressed you so much?
You know, in the Bible, Numbers 22, God speaks through a jackass. He speaks through literally, in the King James language, Balaam's donkey. So God opens the mouth of a donkey and speaks to Balaam, and then Balaam beats the donkey. He beats the messenger. If Biblically God is capable of speaking to a jackass, why can't he speak through an elephant, meaning the presumptive Republican candidate?
And here was the irony of it. This was actually one of the questions I submitted, and I'm sure that I wasn't the only one that submitted this question about his take on the First Amendment which guarantees the very thing that you're doing at The Daily Wire: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble, freedom to address the government for redress of grievances. So, I asked that question, not verbally but written down, and that was one of the questions that was asked. Well, the irony of this –- listen to the irony of this –- evangelicals are asking the presumptive Republican candidate, "What will you do to address religious freedom?"
And Mr. Trump's response was stellar...the gist of it was this, he said, you know –- this was the God speaking through an elephant type of a thing -- in this room, there are tremendous communicators. I see you on television –- as the gathering was a popery of evangelical leaders -- I see you speak before thousands of people and on television. I see pastors speak before thousands of people, thousands and thousands, you do a much better job than any politician could ever do. But you don't speak about the issues.
And you know what, that's where I thought at that moment, there was something profound said through the elephant that went over the head of a thousand evangelicals. Here you are asking Mr. Trump to protect your religious freedom, and you're not even using the freedom that you now have. See the irony behind that?
Yeah, I do see the irony. That's an interesting perspective.
Well I think it is, and there were two stories in that ... conversation with Trump and [Dr. Ben] Carson. Number one is Mr. Trump's demeanor and the things that he said. The other thing is that you have thousands of evangelical leaders gathered in humility in a historic way and I think we missed one of the key statements that God was trying to say to us through an unlikely messenger –- a very controversial figure, a figure that the evangelicals themselves are not settled on, as we all know –- and yet, it kind of went right over their heads because I think the nugget of what was said was a rebuke and an exhortation to those of us who historically, the pastors and Christian leaders, have always been on the tip of the spear in regard to freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to worship, freedom to respect your own religion. That seems to have been missed, and if I have anything to say about it, I don't want that to be missed. I think that needs to be shouted from the mountaintops at the very people who should now when religious freedom is being jeopardized and freedom of speech is being jeopardized like no other time, and this upcoming election is going to be, I think a very clear opportunity for whether or not the First Amendment will be protected or potentially undermined.
We are the ones who should be the tip of the spear and yet we're afraid. And Mr. Trump said that he thinks that he believes that one of the reasons is the fear of the nonprofit status being revoked for speaking out and he wants to do away with that, that limitation, the Johnson limitation that President Johnson instituted in the Sixties, you know your 501(c)3 non profit could be revoked if you speak about legislation or try to influence legislation. Trump said he wanted to revoke that if he was ever president. So that was interesting, but I think the issue is one of, will religious freedom be protected and preserved? And when are we pastors going to stop being more afraid of man than we are of God and to speak the truth and love with humble courage? I think that's the need of the day: humble courage. And it needs to happen and the pastors and the Christian leaders, we're more afraid of people than we are reverential toward God.
I was actually about to ask you about the Johnson law...it must be just disconcerting for you as a pastor to hear people on the left constantly talking about revoking the nonprofit status altogether just because the left wants more power and government revenue. Is that something that you worry about on a daily basis?
I'm concerned about a new form of religious intolerance and a new form of hatred in the guise of openness and tolerance and love and embracing everybody and having a more inclusive brand of Christianity. What's actually happened is now these people simply want to drive the car and...what they really mean is there is no place for anyone who disagrees with us, the new drivers in the car. They're doing the same exact thing that they are infuriated about toward conservative Christians and evangelicals. They do not want evangelicals and those who believe in Judeo-Christian values to be part of the discussion, so they are the most intolerant, most unloving and most hateful people that we have ever seen in this country, and the irony is that they're doing it all in the name of tolerance and love and inclusiveness. There is nothing inclusive about what they're doing. The Judeo-Christian values that the United States of America is based upon–and I would say that yes, we were never a "Christian nation" but we certainly were a country founded on Judeo-Christian values–are the very reason why religious freedom and the freedom of speech are so important in the fabric of our society. So yes, I'm deeply concerned about this election because the outcome of this election, which will determine the Supreme Court justices, their decisions on the First Amendment will give me or take away from me and millions of other Americans the right of the First Amendment, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom of religious assembly. Congress shall no make law affecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof. And so I better be concerned about that as a pastor, and so better other people as well. And people say, you know, that sounds like it might be political. No, the problem is that the political world has hijacked the theological world, and now that they have crossed the line, I must stand up and Christian leaders and Jewish leaders should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, line in the sand, saying enough is enough. You do not have our God-given right, which is recognized by the Constitution, not given to us by the Constitution, to freely worship my God and to teach my children and to teach my people what the truth is. And when we start to go down this slippery slope, that Hillary Clinton has said that she believes that all of the amendments of the Constitution are subject to government regulation, and that is a quote from her. She's come out and said that in an interview with George Stephanopoulos about three weeks ago. I have a huge problem with that as an American, not just as a pastor and a Christian. Every American should be concerned about the law of the land; the First Amendment was first on purpose, because all of the other amendments and the rest of the fabric of this nation will rise or fall depending on whether or not the First Amendment stands. A government that can regulate–Ben Shapiro said it so well–a government that can regulate the Constitution instead of being regulated by the Constitution, signals the end of this country. And I agree with him.
Yeah, me too, very profound. One of the things that I think still confuses a lot of people is why Trump has been able to attract so much evangelical support, especially in the primary when he was running against two devout Christians in Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). So as a pastor yourself, what is it about Trump you think that draws so many evangelicals to support him? Is it the religious liberty issue? What is it exactly?
Well, I think it's interesting that Mrs. Clinton is not drawing the evangelical vote. She's not courting them, she hasn't seemed to reach out to them, I think she's actually made it very clear that she seems to not embrace the support of the Constitution that evangelicals are concerned about. And so, I think that I know how the gathering with Trump came about: the leader of United in Purpose asked Ben Carson if he would be capable of having Mr. Trump consider the possibility of getting together with a hundred evangelical leaders. Trump came back and said yes, the number grew to 500 and Trump said yes and then the number grew to a thousand and then they cut it off. Hillary has, I think, the same opportunity, we still have freedom of speech, and so she's got the opportunity to have a similar gathering with evangelicals. I would encourage her to accept the invitation from United in Purpose. And you know what, I'll be there if that meeting happens. My answer's yes already. I think it's just an opportunity that both candidates, my understanding, were given. Mr. Trump said yes, and the verdict is still out on Mrs. Clinton.
I take it then you're going to vote for Trump in November?
Well, that's a great question. I would never want to reveal the sanctity of the secret ballot, Aaron. That's something that I don't divulge. I will not be publicly endorsing a candidate, but I will be encouraging people all around the country to look at the candidates' views on the sanctity of life, the candidates' views on the Constitution, whether it's a document that can be changed, regulated or undermined, and which candidate–it used to be you could vote for a candidate that shares your values. We might not have that in this particular election, but we will have, I believe, a clear choice about which candidate will give me the opportunity to worship and serve my God with the freedom that was given to me by that God that the Constitution protects. And I think that fundamental shift in how people will filter their choice for a candidate could be a deciding factor in how this election goes. I think we're at the point where you've got to choose a candidate and candidates who will best enable you to, without hindrance and obstruction by any type of a government or any type of legislation, to worship and serve your God in freedom...I will be educating my people on what the candidates believe, to have both eyes open. I will be educating my people that to not vote in this election is throwing away a vote and we cannot afford this key time in our nation's history and our nation's future to sit on the sidelines while Rome is burning. This is probably one of the most significant elections in our nation's history, and what the candidates believe about the Constitution, whether it can be regulated or whether it can't be regulated, what the candidates believe about the sanctity of life, what they believe about Supreme Court justices, what they believe about law and legality and the size of government. All of that stuff are the very things that caused the founding of America in the first place, and isn't it interesting that now we are revisiting some of those same things that led to the very formation of the nation that became America?
Yeah, very interesting indeed. I think that just about covers it, is there anything you'd like to add?
I'm the founder of the National Week of Repentance, and I think that there's a huge need for Christians and for even Jews to really examine what does it mean to surrender to God. And I think that our nation is at a huge, probably as big if not bigger than right before and during the Civil War, and I believe that true change begins in God's house, not the White House. So the National Week of Repentance, Oct. 30–Nov. 6, the whole week on purpose, RevivalMatters.com is the website, I think that it's time for especially Christians to really humble themselves, really seek God for the change that needs to begin among Christians first and foremost. I think if that doesn't happen at his key time in history, there is no change in the political realm that's going to resolve our problems because I think you cannot solve a spiritual problem with a political problem. I think the root of our problems in this nation are spiritual and therefore they must be addressed with a spiritual solution.