WASHINGTON (RNS)—President Trump’s seemingly spontaneous announcement on Twitter that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military reportedly caught some administration officials and congressional leaders by surprise.
But evangelical Christian leaders who informally advise the president discussed reversing the year-old policy two weeks ago at a meeting arranged by White House staff in Washington, D.C.
The discussion came during a previously reported daylong meeting of evangelical leaders—including a number who had been on Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the campaign—July 10 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The building is next door to the White House and houses the offices of most of the White House staff. Various staff members were present throughout the meeting, listening and taking notes, said one of those who attended the meeting, evangelical author and public relations consultant Johnnie Moore.
“It’s not the administration propagandizing,” he said. “It’s religious leaders, it’s the administration sitting at the table, taking notes, listening to them, asking questions and vice versa, and attempting to understand the needs of the community.”
The policy on transgender people serving in the military had not been on the agenda for the meeting, Moore said. It was one of many topics that came up throughout the day, including health care, taxes, religious liberty and judicial appointments.
“We briefly discussed this issue,” Moore said.
The evangelicals followed up with a signed letter asking the president to reverse the Obama-era policy allowing transgender people to serve in the military, Moore added.
The evangelicals were more concerned about the nomination of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Moore added. The White House subsequently announced President Trump plans to nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to fill that position.
Photos shared widely on Twitter showed evangelical leaders laying hands on the president in prayer afterward in the Oval Office.
“When we went to the Oval Office, we didn’t discuss a single issue. We just prayed with the president,” Moore said.
The letter urging the president to reverse the policy was written by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who also was at the meeting, and signed by a number of prominent evangelicals, according to Moore. He did not know if the president had read the letter.
The announcement of the ban July 26 drew both cheers and condemnation from leaders of all faiths.
But there will be no change to the military’s policy “until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,” according to internal communication reported on by Politico.
The New York Times and other outlets reported the ban came in response to a fight on Capitol Hill over whether taxpayer money should pay for gender transition and hormone therapy for transgender people in the military.