A great deal of attention this week has surrounded Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's June 21 meeting with more than 900 evangelical leaders, with speculation reverberating throughout media and the political sphere.
Much is being said about the businessman's concerted efforts to reach the sizable evangelical Christian cohort — a group that is known to have a profound impact on Republican candidates' electoral prospects.
As for the event's impact, author and evangelical leader Johnnie Moore, who was present at the massive gathering, told Deseret News National on Friday that there was a common theme that seemed to deeply resonate with the audience: Trump's stated commitment to religious liberty.
Moore, who also attended a small meeting between Trump and 20-25 high-profile evangelical leaders that preceded the larger event, said that the subject was repeatedly discussed throughout both gatherings.
"I think in both circumstances ... what was most clear and most encouraging ... was his sort of unwavering committment to issues related to religious liberty," Moore explained, saying that Trump repeatedly pledged to fight for Christians who believe that their civil liberties are being constrained.
Moore, who is among those serving on Trump's evangelical executive board alongside former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed and many others, said that the board's purpose is to offer advice to the campaign and to help build a "consistent dialogue between Mr. Trump and the evangelical community."
While the broader meeting with evangelical leaders attracted the most media attention, Moore said that Trump's tone in the smaller gathering truly struck him — and it's a detail that might surprise many of those who are more than familiar with the candidate's oft-times boisterous nature.
"What really, really struck me in the earlier meeting was how interested he was in listening, in feedback and criticism," Moore said. "There was a certain humility he exhibited in his interaction with these leaders."
In the end, Moore said that some attendees weren't quite ready to offer up endorsements and that some continue to watch and wait to see what will happen next, including who Trump will choose as his vice-presidential running mate.
That said, Moore believes that the overarching impact was positive, saying that a clear message reached those in attendance.
"We have one candidate who says he will support the things that are important to us and one candidate who promises she won't," Moore said, adding, though, that he and many of the others on the executive committee would be more than willing to serve on a similar board for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton if she expressed interest in their insights.
As for what Trump needs to do to secure the support of evangelical believers more broadly, Moore recommended that the candidate continue his outreach and amp up efforts to "communicate his position on these issues."
"I think he's on the right track," he added.
Moore was hardly the only attendee to feel as though Trump was successful in courting attendees with the Rev. Franklin Graham — who has pledged not to endorse a candidate this election cycle — telling Fox News' Greta Van Susteren this week that he believes Trump answered many of the questions and "honest concerns" that came from the audience.
Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who was an early Trump supporter, also said during the same panel interview that he was "very impressed" by Trump's handling of the event.
"He was very presidential and he's really showing a deeper understanding than I've ever seen before of issues that are important to conservatives and to Christians," he said, adding that Trump talked openly about pro-life Supreme Court nominees as well as his support for Israel.
Not everyone has been so embracing of Trump's attempts to court the evangelical voter cohort, though. Conservative activist Eric Teetsel made headlines this week for standing outside of the Trump meeting while holding a homemade sign that carried a blistering message about the Republican businessman.
Teetsel's placard proclaimed, "Torture is not pro-life, racism is not pro-life, misogyny is not pro-life, murdering the children of terrorists is not pro-life," and included a reference to Proverbs 29:2, which reads, "When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan."
Teetsel, who advised Marco Rubio's presidential campaign and was the director of the Manhattan Declaration, told the Christian Post why he chose to send that message and stand up in protest.
"I felt like a few one-on-one conversations [with attendee friends] wasn't enough," he said. "The Trump campaign did this event in order to get the media to write that Christians are supporting him. I wanted to do something to make it clear that there is more to the story, so I made a sign."
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, tweeted similar sentiments on Wednesday, writing, "I've met @RealDonaldTrump. Warning 2 fellow evangelicals: No good choice is no reason 2 abandon core principles Trump=danger."
And many others expressed their disapproval well before Trump's massive evangelical gathering, with Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, repeatedly making known his deep opposition to the Republican businessman.
“What we have in the Donald Trump phenomenon is an embrace of the very kind of moral and cultural decadence that conservatives have been saying for a long time is the problem,” Moore said during an interview with "Face the Nation" earlier this year. "And conservatives who previously said we have too much awful cultural rot on television now want to put it on C-SPAN for the next four years with either [Trump or Hillary Clinton]."
Trump responded by taking to Twitter to call Moore a "truly terrible representative of Evangelicals" and "a nasty guy with no heart."
As for whether Trump will be able to capture and hold evangelical support, only time will tell, though the debate over his Christian bonafides clearly isn't settled.