WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Trump was welcomed at the annual Values Voters Summit with standing ovations from religious conservatives who said they’re willing to look past his personal behavior, religious beliefs, and indiscretions.
“He’s an answer to our prayers,” said Mandeville, Louisiana-resident Denise Hopkins. Hopkins told ThinkProgress that at first she was skeptical of Trump, who was not the candidate she thought she would support, but “sometimes God surprises us.”
“He’d been a Democrat, he’d been a liberal guy,” she said. “I was looking for a conservative constitutionalist. But we’re all a work in progress.”
With his speech on Friday, Trump became the first sitting president to speak to the Values Voters Summit, an annual conference hosted by the Family Research Council (FRC). The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FRC a hate group because of its denigration of LGBTQ people.
Trump first spoke at the event while he was campaigning in September 2016, and voters said then that they were not judging his questionable Christian values. But that was before some of his most troubling comments came to light.
Last October, just a month before the election, the Washington Post released footage of Trump bragging about sexual assault. “When you’re famous they let you do it,” he said in the now notorious Access Hollywood video. By Election Day, more than a dozen women had come out and accused Trump of touching, kissing, and grabbing them without their consent.
Though Christians at the summit were quick to condemn assault, they also reaffirmed that they are willing to look past Trump’s rhetoric and actions.
“He sometimes doesn’t say things in the most artful form, but then two or three days or a month later, it’s like, you know, he’s got good instincts,” Hopkins said.
Susan Blake, who came to the summit from South Florida for the fifth year in a row, said the president has redeemed himself with the help of “good, Christian people” in his life, like Vice President Mike Pence.
“I love President Trump,” she said. “He’s really evolved…. He’s come to Christ and it’s changed his worldview.”
Trump is an unlikely politician to have gained the support of Christian nationalists. He has been married three times and has admitted to cheating on at least one wife. He frequently stumbles when discussing his personal faith, like the time he cited “Two Corinthians,” and then blamed FRC President Tony Perkins for the mistake. He was also previously a Democrat who supported a woman’s right to choose.
Yet Christians like 31-year-old Svetlana Shcherbina listened to Trump’s remarks and said they agreed with him “100 percent.”
“I’m amazed,” Shcherbina, who booked a last-minute flight from San Diego to attend the event, told ThinkProgress about getting to see the president. “My heart’s still beating. I honestly, a little bit, felt like I was in church.”