CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — On the Sunday before the Republican National Convention, Darrell Scott’s sermon came from II Corinthians. He departed from the text with blinding speed, words tumbling after words, the organist at his New Spirit Revival Church punching the keys after his every sentence.
“You are more than your house-ah!” he said. “You are more than your job-ah! You are more than your career-ah! You are more than your clothes-ah!”
His congregants — a hundred or so, a slow day for the church — stood and shouted. They raised their hands, jerking with each organ stab.
“We gain ourselves when we lose ourselves!” Scott said.
Anyone happening by the church, situated inside a re-consecrated, 91-year-old synagogue in a quiet part of town, would have walked past two police cars and wondered what the fuss was about. Scott was a Donald Trump supporter who had introduced the candidate at Ohio rallies and gathered peers to meet him in New York.
It was the first endorsement Scott had ever made, putting him in green rooms and in arenas full of screaming Republican voters. He didn’t talk about it from the pulpit – “my politics have nothing to do with the church,” he said in an interview — but the largely black congregation of New Spirit Revival Church was aware.
“That’s his personal view,” said Shaendale Turner, 37. “I’m still weighing the pros and the cons. I guess he’s going against the grain, but that’s the whole point of being an individual.”
“It’s all about God and the word of God,” said Barbara Logan, 56, getting a pre-service doughnut at Starbucks. “But I think Trump is awesome.”
Scott has told and retold the story of how he met Trump. He was invited to Trump Tower in 2011, when Trump was flirting with running for president, and walked in skeptical of what the tycoon might tell him. He found a prayerful Christian, someone who would fight with Scott to defend his community and his faith.
“Christianity gets a bad break,” he said, recalling how Trump agreed with him. “We’re presented as being bigoted, narrow-minded people, and there seems to be no anger over this. When we oppose transgender bathrooms and same-sex marriage, we’re portrayed as the enemy.”
When Trump began running for president, Scott became his advocate. “I went in with an opinion of him that had been formed through media portrayals,” Scott told an Ohio audience this year.
A video of that speech quickly went viral among Trump fans sick of being called anti-black or small-minded. But only a small army materialized behind Scott. There had always been black pastors ready to endorse Republicans, informing the Democratic Party’s most reliable voters that their party did not respect their faith or want them to rise up. Trump was able, at least, to give those pastors unimaginably large platforms.
Most blacks, though, have not responded to the call. In combined Post-ABC polls over the past two months, Trump is winning the support of just 6 percent of African Americans, compared with 91 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Rashad Robinson, the executive director for Color of Change, was proud of his group’s work scaring large corporations away from the Republican National Convention. Trump, he said, would have loved to rebrand himself as a friend to aspirational blacks. Black voters simply weren’t going to let him do it.
“Color of Change has a long memory,” Robinson said. “In the early days of his campaign, sure, he was trying to avoid attacking black people the way he attacked Latinos. But five years ago, before he was a candidate, Trump was on TV demanding the president’s birth certificate. Before that, he was raging against the Central Park Five. People are starting to see the real Trump now, and you’re seeing polls where he’s getting zero percent of the black vote.”
Scott would readily defend Trump from anyone who called him a racist — an idea, he said, based entirely on how Trump demanded proof of the president’s citizenship.
“That issue was introduced by Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Scott said. “Bill Clinton said of Barack Obama that ‘this guy would have been getting us coffee 10 years ago.’ Hillary played the race card on Obama, and now she’s playing it on Trump.”
Outside of the pulpit, Scott can explain why Trump is an ideal president for people who want to protect morality and build wealth, and why the Clintons have only hoodwinked people. On Trump’s three marriages: “You don't want to be talking about morality if your last name is Clinton.” On the Democrats’ record with black voters: “I don’t think she’s done anything to enhance the black community besides carry hot sauce in her bag, or do some ‘black’ dance at a campaign event.”
On Sunday, New Spirit Revival held its usual two services, but the first was mostly given over to a special guest: Mark Burns, a South Carolina pastor who has been an even more prominent Trump booster than Scott.
“Donald Trump asked him, personally, to speak at the convention tomorrow,” said Scott from the pulpit, making a rare in-church mention of the candidate. “Think about that. This is a historic event. Think about all of the people who wanted to get on that stage — and Donald Trump asked him.”
Burns’s sermon steered away from politics, but it had all the passion of one of the onstage endorsements he’d given Trump. He darted around the pulpit, stabbing the air with his hand — at one point Scott jumped forward and pretended to dry off Burns with a red handkerchief.
The sermon itself was not about Trump, but about success. It was possible, through God, to find not just happiness but to become prosperous.
“Say, I don’t need to work two jobs!” said Burns. “Say, I will be debt free!”
Between the services, multiple members of the church said that they had, indeed, improved themselves since they began to attend. Turner had fought her way from minimum wage to an insurance job that paid $16 per hour. Logan had lost her job and dipped into her retirement plan to make sure she could tithe — and she’d rebounded, too.