Pastor John Gray Among Faith Leaders at White House Meeting

On Wednesday afternoon President Trump met with African-American faith leaders from across the country to discuss criminal justice reform. Among those in attendance was Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina who recently assumed the position after serving as an associate pastor for five years under Joel Olsteen at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He is also an author, focus of the reality TV series The Book of John Gray on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and has made multiple appearances on the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club. While Gray has been publicly critical of the current administration’s lack of moral compass and has had no relationship with President Trump prior to this meeting, unlike others in attendance, he was still seated to the right of the President. One might conclude this was by no coincidence as Gray is easily the most recognizable of the group. He now joins the growing list of black celebrity figures that have accepted the invitation to meet with President Trump just days after Lebron James stated, “I would never sit across from him.” However, what separates Gray from the entertainers of this list is his unique position as a pastor. “I went as a man of God and I wanted to be heard,” he said, “if there’s anybody who thinks they’re above praying for people they don’t agree with, then you don’t have the heart of Christ.” Yet, many were disappointed by his presence at the meeting and could not help but view it as a political endorsement. This speculation is not completely implausible considering it is within reason to question why he could not reject the invitation and still pray for the nation’s leadership. In fact, Gray wrote in an Instagram post Thursday morning that he was conscious of how his attendance would be perceived and that he himself knew he had nothing to gain by attending. Ultimately, he based his decision on an answer from God which evidently instructed him to be in the room.

The larger question is what did the meeting actually accomplish? Pastors should understand more than most that faith without works is dead. President Trump began the meeting with remarks recounting the progress his administration has made to reduce African American and Hispanic unemployment, although this decline began under President Obama and can entirely be attributed to his last years in office according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also referenced his support for the First Step Act, a modest prison reform bill passed by the House in May which aims to improve prison conditions and provides incentives for participation in programs that reduce recidivism. Thereafter Gray led the opening prayer and each Pastor gave a brief introduction. The nature of their comments seemed celebratory, almost gleeful. Individually they thanked President Trump for a seat at the table and commended him for his openness to discuss criminal justice reform. Pastor Darrel Scott, the 60-year old leader of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and long-time supporter of Donald Trump, even praised him as “the most pro-black President that we’ve had in our lifetime.” Not only is this statement laughable but it is effortlessly disproved by the Presidents of the Civil Rights Era and by President Trump’s own long and disgraceful track record of racism. Furthermore, under the direction of Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s pick for attorney general, the Justice Department has reversed several Obama-era criminal justice reforms including the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences against low-level nonviolent drug offenders and the use of private prisons by the federal government.

While their intentions may have been pure, not one of the pastors respectfully challenged President Trump or questioned any of his immoral policies. They were silent as Scott lauded him as a champion for black America and spoke only of their appreciation for the President. Few of them actually appeared to have offender reentry programs within their churches. It was an astounding display of capitulation, a new height of pandering. They seemingly left empty-handed with nothing more to return to their congregations except the ability to say, “I was there.”