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Trump hits back at pastor who interrupted his pulpit speech

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar

(RNS) Donald Trump is criticizing a pastor who interrupted his speech from her church’s pulpit, saying the woman was “a nervous mess” because she had clearly planned to upstage him.

“Something was up because I noticed she was so nervous when she introduced me,” Trump told the Fox News program “Fox and Friends” on Thursday morning (Sept. 15), a day after the Rev. Faith Green Timmons cut his address to her congregation short as he started criticizing his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us,” Timmons, pastor of the predominantly African-American Bethel United Methodist Church, said, adding he was not there to “make a political speech.”

Trump, who is struggling mightily to win over African-American voters, stopped by the church on a swing through Flint, Mich., which has made national headlines for its contaminated water crisis.

As Trump continued his remarks, the New York real estate developer was repeatedly challenged by some members of the crowd of about 50 people, including a woman who accused him of discriminating against black renters as a landlord in the 1970s.

“No, I never would, never would,” Trump replied to that charge.

He then made a few remarks about fixing Flint’s drinking-water issues before departing quickly, trailed by heckling.

Phoning in to the Fox morning show on Thursday — a friendly venue for the Republican nominee — Trump said Timmons had planned the interruption to embarrass him.

“When she got up to introduce me she was so nervous, she was shaking, and I said, ‘Wow, this is sort of strange.’ And then she came up (to interrupt). So she had that in mind, there’s no question about it,” Trump said.

Asked if the episode bothered him, he said no. “I mean, everyone plays their games. It doesn’t bother me.”

He also had a very different take on the congregation’s reactions, saying “the audience was so great” and was shouting to let him speak.

“These are mostly African-American people, phenomenal people, and they want to see change,” he said. “You have to see, the crime rate over there is ridiculous. The whole place is, not only the water, what they did with water is horrible, but the crime rate and all the other problems they have.

“I use the expression, ‘What do you have to lose?’” he said, reprising his  pitch to African-American voters who he says have it so bad they might as well take a shot on an unconventional Republican like himself rather than a conventional Democrat like Clinton. “I’m going to fix it! What do you have to lose?”

The crowd at the church did not seem to appreciate that pitch, however.

The Associated Press reported that one black woman, Reneta Richard, yelled at him: “What do you mean, ‘African-Americans have nothing to lose?'”

Trump apparently heard it differently.

“I tell you, the audience was fantastic,” he said on Thursday. But Timmons, he said, “was like a nervous mess. So I figured something was up, really.”

NPR reporter Scott Detrow was at the church and also saw it far differently from Trump.

In a blog post on Thursday after Trump’s comments, Detrow said Timmons “didn’t appear nervous at all.”

He also wrote that when audience members started in on Trump, she stepped in to defend him, saying the Republican nominee was “a guest of my church, and you will respect him.”

“Thank you. Thank you, pastor,” Trump responded.

Trump was taking a different tack the next morning, however, which may solidify his base but may not help him with the audience he was hoping to court in that Flint church.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • That Black Pastor was not nervous, he sees everything through lying eyes…He’s going to Hell in a #Basket! He was nervous in there with all those African Americans who has nothing to loose! ???

  • No, I think Trump may be correct to some degree. Trump was actually there, right with the pastor, so he would be in the best position to observe if the pastor was nervous. Certainly the pastor’s sudden and unexpected interruption looks suspicious, and could have been preceded by some nervousness.

    Meanwhile, my own two questions would be:

    (1) Why ask a major-party presidential candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, to speak at your church in the middle of election season, if you intend to forbid him or her to say ANYTHING against their main opponent?

    (2) And why didn’t the pastor obtain Trump’s specific agreement on that one condition, PRIOR to his speech? Why wait till the candidate is speaking and THEN you interrupt him in front of the national TV cameras?

  • Floydlee; So being nervous is proof you’re up to something. Doubt that is evidence that would hold up in court. He wasn’t invited to make a campaign speech; just highlight the need to fix the water problem in Flint. No doubt that was made clear to his staff. Allowing him to make a campaign speech would endanger their tax exemption. His attempt to do so was more than discourteous; it was potentially harmful. But then, he’s never shown much interest in pursuing anyone’s best interest but his own.

  • Your Blacks, his ass didn’t have a chance to talk…let alone talk down to one! That’s why he ran away crying like the orange bitch he is! Ijs ?

  • What is this “no doubt that was made clear to his staff” stuff?

    Neither you nor I have any evidence of that, and by now you’ve likely noticed that NONE of the media outlets have offered any information, quotations or even suggestions to that effect.

  • I am pretty sure that the expectation was that Trump would do/say much of the same that he had done previously when attending a black church in Detroit on September 3. Trump said that he was there to learn and to listen to the church goers “in order to remedy injustice in any from”.

  • If Trump were to have a conversation with God, and God issued a statement saying “This is what we discussed…”, Trump would have a completely different version of what happened. And for good measure he’d slam God for being a very poor host.

  • Ouch,Rhonda!!?—Two things:(1), the pulpit ought to be considered holy ground; as such, In my humble opinion NO ONE who is not an ordained servant of Almighty God has any business occupying it. Secondly, tax status notwithstanding, frankly politicians have no business addressing the churches unless it’s to confess and/or repent. Just sayin’ .?

  • Really, had that happened what do you honestly think he would have done? Could it have something to do with 1. Sense of entitlement or 2. Borderline Personality Disorder that life of chaos and confusion? He loves the national spotlight so what’s the issue there? Again get the story straight, he was asked not to come, but, he did anyway and tried to do what he thought he does best take over…it just didn’t go his way and then like the narcissistic individual he is, he ran home to faux news and what?#LIED! We saw the video, just like being there she was not nervous, he was!!!

  • Really, now! If you open your doors and invite in a major party’s candidate to speak, then you and your congregation should be game for hearing just about anything–beyond profanity–that comes out of the candidate’s mouth. This is common courtesy and hosspitality. (I’m not a Trump supporter–just a cryptic observer of rank hypocrisy in the ranks of the clergy! I’m bettin’ no one would have said anything about a Hilliary Clinton appearance where she excoriated Donald Trump! Any takers?)

    That’s what happens when churches have immersed themselves in politics (pun intended) to the point of abandoning their main mission, which is spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ!