Trump's Spiritual Adviser Talks About Relationship With President
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Six faith leaders spoke at Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday. One of them was Paula White. Like so many other decisions by the new president, it was an historic and controversial choice. Pastor White is the first woman member of the clergy ever invited to offer prayer at an inauguration. She's been a spiritual adviser to President Trump for some years and has been credited with bringing him closer to the evangelical community. But she's also been derided as a prosperity preacher, even a heretic, by other evangelicals.
As we've been getting reactions to the inauguration throughout the weekend, we were pleased to have a chance to speak with her the day after the inauguration. Welcome, Pastor White. Thanks so much.
PAULA WHITE: Thank you so much, Michel. I'm semi-recovering, but it's historical and monumental to stand with such great men of God and just leaders around the world.
MARTIN: Well, I described you as his spiritual adviser. Is that how you would describe your role in his life? And do you mind telling us how you know him?
WHITE: Oh, not at all. Our relationship started 15 years ago when I received a phone call. And my office said, Mr. Trump's on the line. And I think had I been watching "The Apprentice" at the time I would've said, you're fired (laughter). You know, I was like, yeah, right. And he came on and he said, I have been watching your program. And he starts talking about growing up, being confirmed Presbyterian and quoted back some of the great sermons, and asked if I was ever in New York. And I happened to be doing the Yankees bible study at the time, and so I was. And I built a relationship with his family and his staff.
MARTIN: Can we talk about why some people are surprised about your connection to President Trump? I mean, you have a large multicultural following. For example, you've been a keynote speaker for years at MegaFest, which, for people who don't know, it's a very large spiritual gathering led by the well-known African-American preacher, author T.D. Jakes.
I'm sure you know that many people have felt that Donald Trump has made demeaning and even racist remarks about people of color for years now, not to mention questioning former President Obama's birthplace for years. And I'm wondering if you've ever talked to him about these remarks and how your congregants feel about those remarks.
WHITE: Well, first off, I've had the opportunity to know him for 15 years. And so knowing him on a private level, I know that there is not racism or prejudice in him. You can ask President Trump that question directly. But from my experience, it's...
MARTIN: Well, his questioning President Obama's birthplace was not something that was secret, nor that - was that a media invention. And many people experienced that as his questioning his legitimacy as president and as racist.
WHITE: No, I understand many people's hurt and many people's position on things. And I do understand that. I think that that is a great question to ask him about.
MARTIN: Can I ask you also about another sensitive issue, which is you've talked openly about being a survivor of sexual assault. And by now, of course, most people know about that "Access Hollywood" tape where then-candidate Trump bragged about grabbing women by their private parts. And I wondered how that struck you, and if you ever had occasion to talk to him about that, and what you think all that means.
WHITE: Absolutely. Immediately I talked to him; when I say immediately, probably within the first few hours of that release or sooner. He was very contrite, very embarrassed. And again, knowing the person, when he said, I am a changed man, I believe, and - or a better man - and I can say that over 15 years I've watched a man grow and I've watched a man change. And I think he - it's something that he took responsibility and ownership for and something that he was deeply bothered by.
MARTIN: How do you see his posture toward his role going forward? Many people have listened to his remarks at the inauguration and have felt that he was speaking mainly to the people who already support him. No doubt you have seen that there are many, many people marching to say that they protest his policies, his tone. In your conversations with him, have you observed a desire to reach out to those who have not supported him?
WHITE: Absolutely. This is a president who number one put the values and the voice of God at the forefront. When he could have chosen one person to pray, he chose six diverse people to pray. He also referenced and used very blunt, obvious references to God. It is no doubt in my mind that his heart is and his intention in every way and his actions - and I believe you'll see fruit bear forth from this - is to bring reconciliation, to unify.
Here's what we have - a president for the next four years who has absolutely dedicated and committed himself to say, let's make America great, and I will not forget the forgotten person. He has four years as our president. In four years, we will make a decision whether he has not forgotten the forgotten person and if he will make America great again because that's the beauty of our democracy, whether he is a man of his word with the integrity of what he has campaigned for or not.
MARTIN: Well, that's Pastor Paula White. She delivered one of the prayers at President Trump's inauguration on Friday. She is senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, but she was kind enough to speak to us while she was still in Washington, D.C. Pastor Paula, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
WHITE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.