It’s a rare day that James Robison doesn’t pray for President Donald Trump.
The North Texas televangelist prays for many things, including safety for the president and his family.
But most of all, Robison, a onetime critic who has spent nearly a year counseling and advising Trump, prays for wisdom.
He knows the brash New York businessman and former reality TV star continues to stun many with a leadership style some cheer and others label reckless, as he stirs up controversy on a daily basis over everything from the way he interacts with leaders of other countries to directives he signs to change federal government policy.
“I do believe if he remains wise — as preposterous as this might sound to some — … he can prove to be as great a president as this nation has ever had,” said Robison, 73, who led a private prayer service for Trump and his family on Inauguration Day. “I never thought those words would have come out of my mouth.
“And I say it with no reservation,” he said. “But the jury is still out.”
Robison is one of the many religious leaders who have worked with Trump, even serving on his evangelical executive advisory board, which includes many Texas voices, including Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, Plano Pastor Jack Graham, Fort Worth evangelists Gloria and Kenneth Copeland and Southlake Pastor Robert Morris. Robison was invited to, but did not attend, this week’s National Prayer Breakfast.
At a time when much of the country is focused on Trump’s Cabinet appointments and executive orders, Robison said he has been impressed with the president’s willingness to listen and learn about key faith-based issues and needs.
In talks with Trump — before and after he became the country’s 45th president — Robison has spoken about the virtues of being meek and teachable, all in the name of helping “extend the life of freedom around the world.”
“I went with him to share the concerns of my heart,” he said. “For whatever reason, he chose to listen and he’s asked me to continue to surround him with prayer and wisdom and love.”
Robison is happy to oblige but said he realizes the outspoken president will always have his own way of doing business.
And that may be for the best.
“Donald Trump is wired in specific ways,” Robison noted. “We better be very, very careful that we not try to shape him in our image. … We better be very careful we don’t mess with something that might be more important than we are able to see.”
But if he could change anything?
“I guess if I had my wish, he’ll start tweeting Proverbs,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be a refreshing thing?”
Praying for a ‘fearless’ leader
Robison, a well-known evangelical who leads the Euless-based LIFE Outreach International Christian relief organization — and who, along with wife Betty Robison, hosts the Life Today TV show — was among the numerous faith leaders offering prayers and hope for Trump, his family and the new administration on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
Trump set a record that day for the sheer number of prayers being offered during inaugural ceremonies.
That morning, during a private ceremony, Robison offered up a prayer for Trump, his family, Vice President Mike Pence, his family, and the Cabinet.
He asked that God’s wisdom flow “like a river” into Trump and those around him.
“We believe, dear God, that the stage is set for the next great spiritual awakening, and I believe with all my heart it is absolutely essential,” according to a copy of Robison’s prayer that he shared with the Star-Telegram. “I want to thank you from the depth of my heart for giving us a leader who is fearless, who is tireless, who is committed.
“God, I want to thank you that we have seen the transformation of his own heart and mind in his actions. I pray, dear God, that those actions would continue to always speak louder than words.”
Trump, like presidents who came before him, relies on a group of faith leaders not only to build him up spiritually but also to help him make the decisions he believes are right and just.
He may turn to them more now than ever, as his critics have become increasingly vocal, protesting executive orders on immigration at airports or marching in the streets to promote women’s rights and condemn his past condescending remarks about women.
Membership in various Democratic groups — which locally includes the Tarrant County Democratic Women’s Club, Southwest Democrats and Mid-Cities Democrats — appears, at least for now, to be on the rise.
“Rage is intensifying,” Robison said. “An eye for an eye leaves a whole nation blind. We don’t need to go there.”
Robison declined to elaborate on how or when he and Trump communicate. But he noted the two talk whenever either feels the need to touch base with the other.
“Religious leaders asked to participate in this way are often spiritual guideposts for presidents, so the president clearly trusts him and his judgment,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Presidents have the weight of the world on their shoulders and religious figures like Robison help to ease that burden for the occupant of the Oval Office.”
‘Strengths and gifts’
Robison last year spent time with several Republican presidential candidates, giving counsel, praying and sharing concerns.
“I was helping all the candidates try to hear what was important,” he said, adding that if they wanted his prayers and counsel, they had them.
When retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson decided to drop out of the presidential race last March, he told Robison he was going to endorse Trump.
“I did not support Donald Trump,” Robison said. “I said, ‘But Ben, he doesn’t listen. He’s not where he needs to be.’ ”
Despite Robison’s arguments, Carson said he was going to endorse Trump — with one condition. Carson wanted Trump to meet with Robison.
Trump agreed; Robison soon headed to the Trump Tower in New York. He was warned that Trump generally didn’t spend more than 15 minutes meeting with anyone. But the two spent 1 1/2 hours together and were briefly joined by Eric Trump.
Robison said the meeting was “powerful.”
He later joked to Trump, a tireless 70-year-old, that the time they spent together was “the longest you’ve been quiet in your entire life.”
Soon, Robison and others began serving on the faith counsel, hoping to guide Trump. But he said he gained new insight into the man who would become president during that first meeting.
“He was the most attentive, the most focused, the most legitimately interested in the concerns I shared,” Robison said. “He wasn’t faking. He was captivated by the power of truth and wisdom.”
He said he told Trump that he has “incredible strengths and gifts to help people.”
And he told Trump that if he would “take those gifts that God gave you and allow God to direct them … you’ll win” the presidency.”
He said he gave Trump the same advice he gave all the presidential candidates he spoke with: “ ‘You’re running a race for president. That’s not the important race. The important race is the race God set before you. If you run that race well, you’ll never lose.’ ”
Bigger than Trump
Robison notes that for all of his public persona, not once has Trump responded to him with rudeness, arrogance or a lack of gratitude.
He said Trump is “as teachable as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
And when wisdom is in the room, he said the president pays attention.
“I’m not responsible for the actions of Donald Trump,” Robison said. “I’m responsible for the truth, concerns, insights that I share. I am responsible for telling him what I believe the Bible teaches and history confirms.”
In biblical terms, he said, that means he sows seeds and trusts “the fruitfulness to God.”
“Do I see the garden blooming the way I want it to? Do I see all the seeds sown already in full fruition? No,” he said. “But I don’t see resistance.”
He said he hopes many throughout the country will join with him and pray for Trump.
“Pray that the clay remains soft and pliable, that the soil remains fertile and receptive to truth,” Robison said. “And he will make an impact that can have a profound transforming effect on our nation and the world. That’s our prayer.
“It has to be bigger than Donald Trump, greater than any man.”