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This Week in God, 4.7.18

Evangelical leaders are organizing a major discussion with Donald Trump about evangelical turnout in the 2018 midterms -- and the president's many scandals.
An exterior view of the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel at the old post office on Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)
An exterior view of the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel at the old post office on Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at a political event evangelical leaders are organizing, which theoretically could cause some discomfort for Donald Trump. NPR had this report yesterday.

As allegations continue to swirl about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter, evangelical leaders are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June, four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting tell NPR."We're very concerned" about the allegations, said a leader of a faith-based ministry. The leader is involved in hosting the gathering, which organizers are aiming to take place June 19 at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The source said the combination of the Stormy Daniels sex-scandal allegations and Trump's continued reputation for divisive rhetoric could suppress evangelical turnout in the November midterm elections.

Organizers are reportedly coordinating the schedule for the event with the White House, with the expectation that invitations will then go out to "hundreds of conservative Christian pastors and political leaders in the coming days." The president would, according to the plan, not only attend the gathering but also field questions from evangelical leaders in attendance for roughly 90 minutes.

One of NPR's sources said, "It is a concern of ours that 2018 could be very detrimental to some of the other issues that we hold dear."

What's surprising to me is the fact that some politically active conservative evangelicals would consider such a meeting necessary. A month ago, for example, far-right megachurch leader Robert Jeffress, cognizant of the Stormy Daniels scandal, effectively gave his presidential ally as a pass.

"Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star," Jeffress said in early March. "However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.... Evangelicals knew they weren't voting for an altar boy when they voted for Donald Trump."

So which is it? It apparently depends which politically active conservative evangelicals you ask. NPR spoke to a "very concerned" leader of a faith-based ministry, but as Right Wing Watch noted yesterday, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, who's reportedly helping organize the June gathering, appeared on a conservative radio talk show and questioned the premise of NPR's report.

"At no point in the conversations that we've had organizing this ... [was there any] discussion at all about doing this to have a confrontational meeting with the president," Perkins said. "It is not going to be a confrontational meeting with the president. That is just absolutely not true because that's not what we are hearing. It might be what the media wants to take place, but it's not going to happen."

Of course, if Trump has any reason to believe this might become "a confrontational meeting," organizers should consider the possibility that he won't show up.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Some notable developments at the Holy See: "The Vatican communications department has been working overtime the past few weeks. First, its chief communications secretary, Dario Vigano, resigned under pressure after the Vatican admitted to doctoring a photo of a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to bolster Francis's conservative credentials. Now, they're scrambling to contextualize a remark attributed to Pope Francis by an Italian journalist at the newspaper La Repubblica that hell does not exist."

* A shocking story out of Louisiana: "A Navy chaplain was fired last month from his post at a Marine Corps command after he was caught on video having sex with a woman at a pub in New Orleans, USA TODAY has learned."

* And speaking of unfortunate stories out of Louisiana: "A Houston megachurch pastor and longtime spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush was indicted in federal court Thursday on claims that he sold more than $1 million in worthless Chinese bonds to vulnerable and elderly investors, some of whom lost their life savings to the alleged scheme. A federal grand jury in Shreveport, La., returned a 13-count indictment accusing the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell and financial planner Gregory Alan Smith of wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy, prosecutors said in a news release."

* An important LDS update: "The Mormon church announced Monday it was making significant policy changes after numerous women said they were encouraged by their church leaders to stay in physically or sexually abusive relationships."

* A surprisingly interesting theological examination: "The Jedi religion -- inspired by the Star Wars franchise -- has already earned tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. But can it prove its spiritual legitimacy to a skeptical public?"