President-elect Donald Trump couldn't have made it to the White House without white evangelical Christians. He courted this faith group throughout his campaign, promising pro-life Supreme Court justices and religious freedom protections.
"I think that he understood that his best and likely only chance to win the nomination and ultimately the presidency was to compete for and win the support of voters of faith," Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, told Politico.
Trump's religious outreach paid off in a big way: 8 in 10 white evangelicals voted for the president-elect, according to national exit polls.
Members of this faith group hoped to see their interests championed at the highest level of government, and so far, they have. Trump is selecting advisers with the tools to help him address the key issues of concern for evangelicals.
"As Trump heads to the White House, the leaders who helped guide his policy promises, lending him credibility with evangelical voters in the process, say he is still keeping them in his orbit as the transition process unfolds, aware of the role their community played in getting him to the presidency in the first place," Politico reported.
Trump's religion-related policy goals span the political map, from increasing pastors' involvement in the election season to making it safe once again to say "Merry Christmas."
A group called "Women Betrayed" holds a rally support ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood in front of the Planned Parenthood offices in Salt Lake City on July 28, 2015. | Tom Smart, Deseret News
"Trump also promised to defund Planned Parenthood, sign the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal dollars for most abortions, permanent," The Washington Post reported.
His willingness to listen and address the needs of the evangelical Christians is already influencing conservative lawmakers, who foresee an easier path to their policy goals.
For example, observers wondered if the promises of Trump's leadership influenced a recent debate over the National Defense Authorization Act. Republican leaders agreed to take a controversial religious liberty provision out of the final version of the bill, likely assuming they could ensure its protections in other ways once the president-elect takes office, as the Deseret News reported.
Trump has promised to make it easier for Christians to live out their faith in public.
"On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that allows any individual, organization or business that receives federal funding to eschew the federal protections aimed at preventing discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals," CNN Money reported.
Trump won't be sworn in until Jan. 20, so it's still unclear how proactive he'll be with these religion-related policy goals.
However, his recent Cabinet appointments and other leadership decisions do suggest that he'll continue to support the most popular causes among evangelical Christians.
Dr. Ben Carson arrives in Trump Tower, in New York on Dec. 12, 2016. Carson will join Donald Trump's cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. | Richard Drew, Associated Press
He's chosen several advisers who appear poised to wed conservative Christian interests with government policy. Here are a few key examples:
- Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development
After initially suggesting that he could better assist Trump's administration as an outsider, Carson agreed to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development in early December. He will be the first Seventh-day Adventist to serve in a president's Cabinet.
Carson's core political concerns are in line with those of other conservative Christians, even if he comes from a much lesser known religious group. While campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination in 2015, he promised to restrict access to abortions, proposed a biblically inspired tax plan and questioned whether Muslims would be fit to serve as president.
In his new role, Carson will manage a $47 billion budget to address the housing needs of low-income families. He's previously praised faith-based and community efforts to address poverty, arguing that the government is overactive and ineffective when it comes to serving poorer families, as The New York Times reported.
Betsy DeVos speaks during a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Dec. 9, 2016. She will join Donald Trump's administration as the Education Secretary. | Paul Sancya, Associated Press
- Betsy DeVos, secretary of education
Education reform wasn't a prominent part of Trump's outreach to evangelicals, but his pick for education secretary shows that his support for this community's interests runs deep, according to some observers.
"By selecting DeVos, and reportedly offering the position to Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., the incoming Trump administration intentionally might have gone out of its way to choose a candidate that would reward the religious right for their unwavering loyalty during the campaign," wrote Casey Brescia, communications director for the Secular Coalition for America.
DeVos supports school voucher programs, which can make it easier for families to send their kids to private, religious schools. "The Michigan billionaire and conservative activist has quietly helped change the education landscape in many states," The Washington Post reported.
Beyond her faith friendly policies, DeVos was an attractive choice because of her strong religious background. "DeVos has deep roots in the Christian Reformed denomination, graduating from Calvin College and attending Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan," Religion News Service reported.
- Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Pruitt attends a Southern Baptist church, making him part of one of the most prominent denominations within evangelicalism. He's been active on religious freedom issues, leading a small legal office called Christian Legal Services "to challenge government actions that he saw as compromising individual rights" when he was first elected to the Oklahoma Legislature, The New York Times reported.
It's unclear how Pruitt's religious background will affect his EPA work, but some observers worry that his faith has led him to question the scientific consensus on climate change, RNA reported.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 7, 2016. Pruitt will be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Donald Trump's administration. | Andrew Harnik, Associated Press
Since becoming Oklahoma's attorney general in 2011, Pruitt has emerged as a major opponent of the Obama administration environmental policies. His selection may make sense within the scheme of Trump's outreach to evangelicals, but many scientists have expressed concern.
"With so much at stake, Mr. Pruitt's confirmation hearings promise to be heated," the Times reported.
- Evangelical advisory board
There's still no word on whether Trump will be a regular churchgoer in Washington, D.C., but he does seem interested in staying close with the group of evangelical Christian leaders who helped him during his campaign. His evangelical advisory board prepares policy guidance and spiritual uplift.
"Mr. Trump evidently told his staff he wanted to keep the advisory board intact, he wanted us to continue to meet, to give him advice, and I will tell you, I have been surprised at the level to which the transition team has solicited our input on personnel," Richard Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said to Politico.