Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held court with black ministers on Monday, and they urged him to tone down his racial rhetoric, the Associated Press reports.
After the meeting, Trump said that “most” of the pastors there endorsed him, according to The Hill.
Controversy has surrounded the meeting at Trump’s headquarters in New York City. His campaign announced last Wednesday that about 100 black ministers would endorse him for president after the private gathering.
But many of the invited ministers said they were unaware of an endorsement and refused to back his candidacy. Trump’s campaign blamed miscommunication for the mix-up and abruptly canceled the endorsement press conference.
During Monday’s gathering, Bishop George Bloomer asked Trump if he’s a racist, according to AP. The minister from North Carolina pointed to Trump’s apparent approval of his white supporters’ beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a Birmingham, Ala., rally last month.
Bloomer said he told Trump that “if he wants to have our ear as a community, to at least tone down the rhetoric some kind of way, tone it down. And he said that he would,” AP reports.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, scores of black ministers and religious scholars urged those invited to the gathering not to legitimize Trump’s campaign by meeting with him. More than 100 of them signed an open letter, published Friday on Ebony.com, that also urged them not to endorse him.
Despite those voices, Pastor Victor Couzens told AP that he felt obligated to at least listen to Trump.
“It’s very unfortunate the way he has talked to not just the African-American community, but things he’s said about women and Mexicans and Muslims. But what’s more discouraging than the things that he has said is the fact that in the face of him saying all of these things, he continues to surge in the polls,” Couzens said.
Despite the concerns expressed by the black ministers, Trump said after the meeting that he would continue his approach.
“The beautiful thing about the meeting is that they didn’t really ask me to change the tone,” Trump said, according to AP. “I think they really want to see victory, because ultimately it is about we want to win and we want to win together.”
Darrell Scott, the senior pastor of New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who helped to organize the meeting, said that a number of the pastors endorsed Trump, though there was no official count, according to The Hill.
Scott, who is a Trump supporter, added that the undecided ministers are “praying about” whether to back the controversial candidate.