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US pastor John Gray: Why I met with Trump

Critics say Gray was political prop in a photo op

A group of African American pastors is facing harsh criticism for meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss how churches and the US government can work together to lower the rates of prisoners re-offending. One prominent African American pastor has even called the group “sycophants who incessantly praised a racist demagogue who is completely unconcerned with prison reform.”

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The group in attendance included Senior Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church, Greenville South Carolina, who was a keynote speaker at Hillsong Conference this year.

Gray, despite agreeing to the meeting with the caveat “I will go, I will listen, I will give my input but I don’t want to be photographed,” was seated beside the President throughout the meeting. It was filmed and broadcast on both the White House and Trump TV channels, prompting people to ask whether Gray was used as a political prop.

Gray has been a vocal critic of President Trump’s policies. In a statement posted on Instagram, Gray said his first inclination was to turn down the meeting invitation as he was well-aware of the criticism that would follow.

“I had not one thing to gain by being there. Not. One. But I asked the Lord when I was asked to be present in this initial meeting about potential prison reform-that could greatly end up benefitting many people who look just like me-Lord, Do you want me in that room? My first mind was no. The pain of so many is too real. The hurt. The isolation. The sense of disenfranchisement. The real hate that has bubbled to the surface of the national discourse. I myself have been vocal about my personal disagreements with key policy decisions of this administration. I have everything to lose. Credibility. Reputation. Every natural inclination says stay home. Don’t get played. It’s gonna be a photo op with no substance. But I did the one thing I can’t shake: I prayed again and asked God. Do you want me in that room? My attendance gives the answer.”

Optics. It’s never about what it is. It’s about what it looks like. My wife @grayceeme told me “If you go, no one will hear what you say. They won’t understand why you’re there. And any good that could come out of it will get lost in translation.” Wise words from a loving, discerning wife. I had not one thing to gain by being there. Not. One. But I asked the Lord when I was asked to be present in this initial meeting about potential prison reform-that could greatly end up benefitting many people who look just like me-Lord, Do you want me in that room? My first mind was no. The pain of so many is too real. The hurt. The isolation. The sense of disenfranchisement. The real hate that has bubbled to the surface of the national discourse. I myself have been vocal about my personal disagreements with key policy decisions of this administration. I have everything to lose. Credibility. Reputation. Every natural inclination says stay home. Don’t get played. It’s gonna be a photo op with no substance. But I did the one thing I can’t shake: I prayed again and asked God. Do you want me in that room? My attendance gives the answer. My heart was pure as was my motive and intention. But the pain of those who have been hurt is real. And I would be a dishonorable man not to acknowledge that. But I will honor what I believe was the mandate on my life to be there and available to God should He choose to give me voice. This post is in no way attempting to invalidate the visceral reaction of those who can’t imagine why I would be in the room. The question becomes who did Jesus turn away from? This said, I went to this meeting to listen. And I do pray for comprehensive prison reform so people can have the second chance they need. And I also understand the pain and questions. May my heart translate beyond the optics. (OH YEAH, the pastor who said the current president was the most pro-Black president ever WAS NOT ME-so get that STRAIGHT) love y’all. This post is closed to comments. This my heart. It needs no commentary. #swipeleft

A post shared by John Gray (@realjohngray) on

“The purpose of that conversation was to talk about prison reform. It was the expressed understanding that we were coming. To see if churches could work with the government to lower recidivism rates and system poverty – cyclical poverty – based on people who are trying to re-acclimate. That was the intention we were coming. That’s why I went,” Gray told CNN’s Don Lemon.

Gray explained that someone who looks like him – an African American – “don’t often have a chance coming out of prison, to be able to get a job that allows for them to not think about doing crime.”

In the meeting, he told President Trump: “I believe that the very best principles of scripture call us to fight for the poor, for the oppressed, for those who have made mistakes.  Criminal justice reform is an opportunity to give a second and third chance to those who want to become productive members of society.  Our nation cannot forget the broken.  It is in the best tradition of our nation to fight for them. And when I think about the history of the church in this country, we have always fought for those who could not fight for themselves.  So when I think of those who are coming out of prison who want to contribute, this is critical.”

Asked whether he would go again, Gray said he would, “…if there were different circumstances. If I had assurances that we were going to meet about the intended conversation… yeah I would go back.”

“Not because I agree… dialogue doesn’t mean agreement. Sitting at the table doesn’t mean agreement. I don’t agree with many of the policies but it doesn’t stop me from having conversations.”

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