Not all Christians, including evangelicals, are fans of the wealthy, thrice-married White, who has long been associated with the prosperity gospel, a set of beliefs that says God will reward faith, and very generous giving, with financial blessings. Detractors point to a congressional investigation of her former church’s finances and accusations that she has taken advantage of her mostly African American parishioners through her fundraising. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore has called her a “charlatan,” conservative Christian writer Erick Erickson has said she’s a “Trinity-denying heretic,” and Christian rapper Shai Linne named her a “false teacher” in one of his songs.
But since the election, White’s star has soared. She offered a prayer at Trump’s inauguration (becoming the first clergywoman in history in such a role). She sat by the president at a private dinner for evangelical leaders on the eve of the National Day of Prayer. She has hovered close by during prayer sessions in the Oval Office. She was present when Trump met with advisers to discuss the nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, she told me, she has turned many of her duties as a pastor of a large church in Apopka, Fla., over to associates as she jets to the White House an average of once a week. (The Trump White House does not release visitor logs, so it’s difficult to confirm how often White is there.)
White has no title and no official position at the White House but plays several roles. After helping to put together an evangelical council for Trump during the campaign, she is now, she explains to me, the convener and de facto head of a group of about 35 evangelical pastors, activists and heads of Christian organizations who advise Trump. (The White House would not release a list of members, but other names associated with this group include Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Billy Graham’s son Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., conservative political activist Ralph Reed and Dallas-based pastor Robert Jeffress.) She also acts as pastor to the president. And in the words of Johnnie Moore, the evangelical advisory council’s unofficial spokesman and White’s publicist, she serves as “part life coach, part pastor” for White House staff.
In 2010, the Grassley committee closed down the investigation without penalizing anyone, though it released documents that remain online. The 13-page report about the Whites, which includes a number of allegations about their apparent appropriation of church and ministry finances for personal use, said theirs was one of four ministries that did not fully cooperate with investigators. One of the problems investigators ran into, the report says, was that Without Walls had required all employees to sign lifelong confidentiality agreements.
“The problem with the Trump administration is that there’s this evangelical group that has access and is being consulted, but there’s no comparable entity for other Christians and other faiths,” says Rogers. “There are no visitor logs being released, no transparency about their activities and nothing to answer to the public for. Our Constitution says our government can’t prefer some faiths over others, so anything that seems to be a preference raises some red flags.”