Virus loans helped entities tied to Trump evangelical allies

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Vice President Mike Pence, left, greets Senior Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, right, after Pence spoke at the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Dallas during a Celebrate Freedom Rally in Dallas, Sunday, June 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

NEW YORK – Churches connected to President Donald Trump and other organizations linked to current or former Trump evangelical advisers received at least $17.3 million in loans from a federal rescue package designed to aid small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those receiving loans include City of Destiny, the Florida church that Trump’s personal pastor and White House faith adviser Paula White-Cain calls home, and First Baptist Dallas, led by Trump ally and senior pastor Robert Jeffress. City of Destiny got between $150,000 and $350,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, and First Baptist Dallas got between $2 million and $5 million, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday.

Loan recipients included several churches and organizations connected to allies who joined Trump’s evangelical advisory board during his 2016 campaign, helping a twice-divorced candidate win over a socially conservative constituency that has proven an essential part of his political base.

Payments received by churches and other organizations linked to Trump’s evangelical allies represent a small fraction of the total aid the program gave to religious entities, which were allowed to access pandemic assistance loans even if they performed only faith-based functions.

Jeffress noted that in establishing the relief program, the Trump administration as well as Congress not only allowed houses of worship to take part but “encouraged” applications for aid out of an understanding “that houses of worship are not only ministries, but they’re employers.”

The number of loan recipients connected to religious supporters of the president, however, illustrates the potential pitfalls for churches and other faith-based groups that opted to pursue the financial aid amid questions about blurring the line between church and state.

Government data shows Jeffress' church reported retaining 293 jobs with its loan, and that Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, received a loan of between $2 million and $5 million. That school is associated with Prestonwood Baptist Church, where senior pastor Jack Graham is a longtime Trump backer who wrote an op-ed lauding the president’s anti-abortion credentials in January.

Graham, whose megachurch claims more than 42,000 members, is not related to Trump evangelical adviser Franklin Graham, son of the late Rev. Billy Graham.