Trump to meet 700 evangelical leaders at 'Pastors and Pews' gathering

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is set to attend a meeting of 700 evangelical pastorsReuters

Donald Trump is set to meet some 700 evangelical pastors tomorrow at a gathering in Florida hosted by the American Renewal Project (ARP).

Bloomberg said that the 'Pastors and Pews' meeting would be a "friendly room" for the Republican presidential nominee, largely based on his promise to repeal the Johnson amendment which prohibits churches from using their tax-exempt resources to promote political candidates.

"That's a good first step," David Lane, the American Renewal Project's founder, told Bloomberg. "But what about the religious liberty of Christian photographers, Christian bakers, Christian retreat centres, and pastors who believe same-sex intercourse and marriage is sin? These Christians were simply living out their deeply held convictions of their Christian faith when they politely refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding. Doesn't the First Amendment give us all a right to our beliefs?"

Controversially, Lane added: "Homosexual totalitarianism is out of the closet, the militants are trying herd Christians there."

The Pastors and Pews gatherings of pastors and their spouses became influential in the 2012 election cycle in the US, as a way of pushing a conservative, Bible-based agenda on politicians and voters.

Of the 2016 candidates, those who attended were Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Lane said that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee was invited to the conference on Thursday and Friday but she appears to have declined the invitation.

According to a recent Pew Research Centre survey, Trump leads Clinton by among white evangelicals and a more recent poll by the Washington Post and ABC News conducted between 1-4 August shows that lead to be 76 per cent to 18 per cent. However, the same poll showed Clinton with an eight point lead overall, on 50 per cent to Trump's 42 per cent. 

Rubio is also set to join this week's Pastors and Pews gathering. Rubio's appearance is controversial among gay rights groups because, having said for months that he would not seek re-election to his Senate seat, he claimed to have changed his mind a week after the massacre at a gay nightclub on 12 June.

Answering his critics over his appearance at the meeting, Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times: "Leave it to the media and liberal activists to label a gathering of faith leaders as an anti-LGBT event. It is nothing of the sort. It is a celebration of faith."

After the Orlando shootings, Trump said: "Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country—they enslave women, and murder gays. I don't want them in our country".

Trump was reportedly persuaded to join tomorrow's event by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.