Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson said Tuesday that Donald Trump recently accepted Christ.
"I believe he really made a commitment," said the highly influential evangelical leader. "But he’s a baby Christian. We all need to be praying for him, especially if there’s a possibility of him being the next executive officer."
Dobson's comments came in an interview following the "historic" meeting between Trump and about 1,000 evangelical leaders on Tuesday. Pastor Michael Anthony, president of Godfactor and founder of the National Week of Repentance, caught up with Dr. Dobson to get his thoughts on the event and Trump, whose strained relationship with evangelicals has resulted in him ramping up his Christian outreach efforts.
Asked what he thought about the meeting, Dobson described it as "historic" and an event the likes of which he had "never" seen in all his years of ministry.
"I feel like it was historic," said Dobson. "Only God knows where we’re heading as a nation, but this gathering of God's people sincerely, actually on their knees, a thousand people, praying together—that's a good thing."
Dr. Dobson agreed with Pastor Anthony that Trump seemed to conduct himself at the event in a far different manner than the public is used to seeing, and said that what was particularly important was the chance to ask him some pointed questions.
Trump, said Dobson, can be "sometimes kind of obscure in the way he answers questions," but the Christian leaders were able to ask him direct, sincere questions that day.
"He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ. And that’s fairly recent."
Dr. James Dobson
"I was in a smaller group this morning at Trump Tower ... and got the chance to interact with him," said Dobson. "And he's soft, he’s a lot nicer guy than you realize."
Anthony agreed, saying it was something he was personally taken aback by.
"Well, I was too. And I think he is listening," said Dobson. "There are a lot of people ministering to him personally. ... He did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ. And that’s fairly recent."
"How recent?" asked Anthony, clearly surprised and encouraged by Dobson's statement.
"I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long," replied 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 the next executive officer."
Dobson underscored that Trump as a "baby Christian" simply doesn't yet know how to speak about his faith.
"I think that he’s open," he continued. "He doesn’t know our language. ... We had 40 Christians together with him, he used the word hell four or five times. He doesn’t know our language—he really doesn’t. He refers a lot to 'religion' and not much to 'faith' and 'belief' in Christ."
"I’m sure Saul when he became Paul didn’t know much of the language either," said Anthony.
"Yeah, you got to cut him some slack," said Dobson. "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."
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE.
In a follow-up interview with Cortney O'Brien, Pastor Anthony discussed the change he had witnessed in Trump at the evangelical meeting.
"The meeting had an effect that I did not expect on me. I saw a different Trump than I’d seen on television," said Anthony. "His posture said it all. He sat the whole time and had his hands to his side for the majority of time. I saw a gentler demeanor here."
"There was a palpable humility in the room that gets me kind of emotional to talk about it," Anthony told O'Brien. "It was really unique.”
As for what Trump spoke most about, Anthony said, he was "very big on religious liberty," and stuck mainly to discussion of First Amendment rights.
"In a very calm, quiet way, with his arms folded, he said, 'you religious leaders,' he called us, 'have every right to speak up and express yourselves, and you don’t. The First Amendment protects that right and yet you don’t,'" said Anthony.
Everyone there, he added, knew that Trump was right: "He’s exhorting us and yet we know he’s right when he said it ... I think God was speaking through him at that moment, to the church, to tell us why are you being silent about the most important thing about your lives?"
Trump also spoke about the importance of selecting Supreme Court justices who would defend those constitutionally protected rights, comments that left Anthony convinced he would make good appointments.
Anthony said Trump was particularly passionate about ending the ban on endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, a law introduced by Lyndon Johnson, saying, "When I get in, we’re going to change that."
At the end of the event, when they all got on their knees and prayed for the country, Anthony said there was "an energy, there was a palpableness in the room, a tangible sense of seriousness about what we’re here for," adding later, "If we can do this in a room of 1,000, I think there’s hope for the nation."
UPDATE: After news of Trump's alleged conversion broke, Dobson felt compelled to clarify his comments, issuing a statement walking back his comments somewhat and providing the name of the pastor who supposedly led Trump to conversion: Paula White, as Erick Erickson describes her, a "noted prosperity gospel heretic."
"Only the Lord knows the condition of a person's heart," said Dobson in the statement. "I can only tell you what I've heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ. Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can't say that I do."
Here's Dobson complete follow-up statement on Trump's alleged conversion:
"Only the Lord knows the condition of a person's heart. I can only tell you what I've heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.
"Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can't say that I do.
"But there are many Christian leaders who are serving on a faith advisory committee for Trump in the future. I am among them. There are about 45 of us that includes Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Jack Graham, Ben Carson, James Robison, Jerry Johnson, and many others whom you would probably know.
"We've all agreed to serve. How will that play out if Trump becomes president? I don't know. It is a good start, I would think.
"If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn't have a clue about how believers think, talk and act. All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death.
"And, if Christians stay home because he isn't a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days. One thing is sure: we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis."
Article first published June 24, updated June 29.