The narrative surrounding Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's Christian faith continues to evolve, with a pastor on his evangelical advisory board now claiming that Trump said he recommitted himself to God a decade ago.
It's a proclamation that will surely spark debate and discussion, especially considering the divided evangelical cohort that routinely disagrees over Trump's rhetoric and proposals.
Pastor Jentezen Franklin of Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia, reportedly told the Gainesville Times that Trump informed evangelical leaders who gathered to meet with him in New York City last month that he rededicated his life to God at age 60.
Trump, who is now 70, also reportedly discussed his family's faith history, saying that he was raised as a Presbyterian and once went with his family to Billy Graham Crusades — well-known events that the evangelist held during his younger years.
"He did say, 'I don’t wear my religion on a sleeve and I'm not, by any means, a saint,'" Franklin said. "But [Trump added], 'What America needs now is not a preacher in the oval office — it needs a leader.'"
Franklin, who is part of an evangelical advisory committee for Trump, told the outlet that he doesn't endorse everything the candidate says and believes, but that he's the most viable option for evangelicals.
"You’ll never find everything you want in a candidate, so we have just to look at the bottom line," he told the Times.
These comments are sure to grab plenty of attention, considering the ongoing and seemingly ever-evolving relationship between Trump and the evangelical community. Plus, it adds to an already complex and contentious series of statements that have been made about Trump's Christian faith.
Let's briefly recap a headline-grabbing radio interview last month during which Christian leader Dr. James Dobson now famously said that Trump had recently accepted "a relationship with Christ."
Dobson, 80, who delivered that message during an interview with GodFactor.com's Michael Anthony, referred to Trump as a "baby Christian" who isn't well-versed in evangelical language, but said that he has hope for the boisterous businessman.
"There are a lot of people ministering to [Trump] personally. He did accept a relationship with Christ," Dobson said. "I know the person who led him to Christ and that's fairly recent."
Those proclamations obviously got plenty of people talking, with a plethora of outlets covering his claims. But what followed was a public clarification of sorts from Dobson, who proceeded to name the then-mystery person who had reportedly overseen Trump's conversion.
In a statement published on his website, Dobson said that "only the Lord knows the condition of a person's heart," and that he believes that Trump is "tender to the things of the spirit." He also clarified that, not having definitive knowledge about Trump's personal faith, he was speaking in his earlier interview with Anthony based on what he had heard from others.
"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," he said, referencing the well-known televangelist. "Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can’t say that I do."
As previously reported, these clarifications came after much speculation and with some critics dismissing the notion that Trump became an evangelical Christian, as Dobson initially described.
As for White, she has been vocal about her support for Trump. In a recent CBN interview, the televangelist said that she believes God is involved in his candidacy.
"There’s no way in the natural, if we were to use this terminology, that you could take a man against 17 other candidates that if we look back at the beginning of this, very qualified candidates, and then here he is, the nominee," she told reporter David Brody. "For me, that has to be providence. That has to be the hand of God, in my opinion."
The plethora of reactions to Trump's purported conversion have been diverse, with the Republican businessman sparking both support and frustration among evangelical leaders. While Dobson has since endorsed him — and while 80 percent of white evangelicals plan to vote for him — not everyone is convinced.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has fervently spoken out against the candidate, as has Denny Burk, a Bible studies professor at Boyce College, who called Trump "a Mussolini-in-waiting." The debate, it seems, continues to rage.
Regardless of these splinters, Trump appears fully aware that the evangelical community's support could be key to his political success, as he took a moment to thank the Christians who have supported him during his address before the Republican National Convention last week.
"At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical community, because I will tell you what, the support they have given — and I'm not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing," Trump said to applause. "And has had such a big reason for me being here tonight."