After several verbal attacks, U.S. President Donald Trump met with black religious leaders at the White House on Monday. His remarks sparked much criticism from politics, the church and on social media.
Participants in the roughly two-hour conversation behind closed doors included 20 preachers from black metropolitan churches who are considered conservative.
The meeting took place immediately after several of Trump's remarks against black politicians and clergymen that have been criticized as racist. Over the weekend, Trump had called African-American Congressman Elijah Cummings a "brutal bully" via Twitter. He called his majority black constituency in Baltimore a "rat and rodent infested shithole".
House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a racist attack. Republican politicians also criticized the president's remarks.
Archbishop defends Baltimore against Trump's slurs
Following U.S. President Donald Trump's insult to the port city of Baltimore, local Archbishop William Lori has come to the defense of his community. He was saddened by the way Trump denigrated the city, Lori declared Monday. The city, historically significant to U.S. Catholics, faces major challenges but also has strengths and opportunities, they said.
In response to the Trump polemic, positive testimonials about Baltimore have been circulating since the weekend via the hashtag #WeAreBaltimore. Baltimore's homicide rate is 10 times higher than the national average. In the past three months alone, 100 murders have been committed, according to the Baltimore Sun. – The city is the oldest Catholic Episcopal city in the United States (since 1784/89) and plays a crucial role in Catholic culture in the country.
Conservative preachers are seen as Trump-friendly
On Monday, Trump disparaged black pastor Al Sharpton as a "con man" who hates "whites and cops" (police officers). U.S. media see subsequent meeting with Trump-friendly black clergy as president's attempt to soften criticism of his remarks. At the same time, they speculate that the targeted provocations have a strategic goal of mobilizing white voters for a second term.
After the Oval Office meeting, Coalition of African American Pastors founder Bill Owens defended Trump against accusations of racism. Trump has done a lot for the African-American community, he said. Owens is considered a longtime Trump supporter. He has been controversial since he equated recognition of same-sex marriage with support for child abuse.