USA Today- On Christmas Eve, six days after a prominent evangelical magazine published a blistering editorial calling for President Donald Trump to be removed from office, the president and first lady ditched services at the liberal church in Palm Beach where they were married and headed to a conservative Baptist-affiliated church in West Palm Beach.
Whether the president’s decision to change the venue and denomination of his long-standing Christmas Eve tradition was tied to the editorial is not known. A White House press officer referred questions to the Florida GOP press liaison, who referred questions back to the White House.
It was the second effort Trump has made to court evangelical voters since he arrived at Mar-a-Lago on Friday — the same day his re-election campaign announced that he would go to Miami on Jan. 3 to launch an “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition.
It is unlikely that the first-couple’s absence from Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach and a surprise appearance at Family Church Downtown gained or lost the president votes among either congregation. Officials at both churches could not be reached for comment on the holiday.
Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a towering Gothic revival style church surrounded by a courtyard and lavish gardens, has long championed liberal and social justice causes. The church was among the first to conduct gay marriages and has condemned the administration’s decision to reduce the number of refugees and allow states and local governments to reject refugees.
The Trumps have long attended Christmas and Easter services at the church. In January 2005, the couple married there and a year later, their son, Barron, was baptized at the church.
About a mile away on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway, Family Church Downtown sits on Flagler Drive, surrounded by Palm Beach Atlantic University, a conservative Christian school.
Family Church Downtown is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and was formerly known as First Baptist Church. The church opposes abortion and considers homosexuality “sinful and offensive to God.”
Trump’s sudden and fiery response to the Christianity Today editorial and recent attempts to woo evangelical voters in Florida indicates his campaign recognizes that a number of conservative Christians are deeply uncomfortable with the president’s behavior and lifestyle.
“He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud,” wrote Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s editor. “His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
Trump shot back on Twitter with two tweets.
“A far left magazine, or very ‘progressive,’ as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather … have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!”
Still, Trump’s support among white, Republican evangelicals remains strong. Nearly all — 98 percent — said they opposed Trump’s impeachment in a recent poll by Public Relations Research Institute. Since the editorial ran, 200 evangelical leaders have come out in support of Trump.
“The evangelicals were so great to me,” Trump told televangelist Pat Robertson during an exclusive interview on July 12, 2017. “They came out in massive numbers. And on top of that, I got 83 percent. But they came out in record numbers. They never came out like that.”
The president also has opened the doors of Mar-a-Lago to evangelical and conservative Christian groups.
Orphans Promise, a charity of Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network, held its first event at Mar-a-Lago in 2018, filling the void left by high-society fundraisers that abandoned Mar-a-Lago after Trump’s comments about a deadly, white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Trump, who happened to be in town the same weekend, stopped by the Orphans Promise event, staying long enough to pose for photos with two of the network’s biggest stars, Faith Nation hosts David Brody and Jenna Browder.
Turning Post USA, a conservative, student activist group that recently held its annual summit at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, hosted its second dinner gala at Mar-a-Lago on Dec. 18.
Among the featured speakers was Jerry Falwell Jr., son of televangelist and conservative activist Jerry Falwell.
Other evangelical leaders who have spoken at Mar-a-Lago since Trump was elected include Apopka-based Pastor Paula White Cain, the president’s personal pastor and special adviser to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative in the White House and Pastor Mark Burns, dubbed “Trump’s Top Pastor” by Time magazine.