- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Longtime Tulsa attorney Tom Winters stayed out of politics for nearly all of his career.

And when he stepped into the political arena last year, he had no idea he would quickly be catapulted into the Oval Office, meeting multiple times with President Donald Trump and even laying his hand on his shoulder and praying for him.

The Tulsa World reports that Winters is one of a select group of Christian leaders, most of them evangelicals, who have been meeting informally with the president to discuss issues of concern to them.

He is well-known in Christian circles. His law firm, Winters King & Associates, represents more than 5,000 churches and ministries, including some of the biggest names in the evangelical world and 28 of America’s top 100 churches.

And as a literary agent, he has represented best-selling authors Joel Osteen, Craig Groeschel, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado.

“I stayed away from politics for a long time,” Winters said in a recent interview in his office atop Citiplex Towers, an office once occupied by Oral Roberts, founder of the university that bears his name.

Winters said that over the years, he has been approached about supporting numerous candidates, including some in the last presidential election, but he always said no.

But in January 2016, when Trump held a huge rally at the Mabee Center, Winters accepted an invitation to meet him behind stage.

“He came in with (former Alaska Gov.) Sarah Palin,” Winters said.

Trump took note that Winters knew Palin well. Winters had worked with her on a book deal and had been in her home in Wasilla, Alaska.

A week later, Winters got an unexpected invitation to meet with Trump in Trump Tower, New York City, along with a group of ministers.

“They had us all around his conference table. Ivanka was there. We all had the opportunity to ask him anything we wanted. Some asked about his position on abortion.

“When it came to me, I talked to him about the Johnson Amendment,” he said, a federal law that forbids tax-exempt churches to endorse political candidates.

“He seemed eager to do something about it.

“We had a good meeting. I felt like he was actually a good guy who meant well, a good listener. He didn’t interrupt.

“For whatever reason, I felt comfortable with him, so that’s when I decided to go ahead and participate,” he said.

A month or two later, Winters attended a similar meeting in Trump Tower.

What is it like to meet with the president?

“It’s a funny thing, when I was in the White House, shaking the president’s hand, I was thinking how strange it was not to be nervous. I believe part of it is President Trump does make people feel relaxed. He is very likable.”

He said he is happy with some of the Trump presidency.

“Obviously the stock market is going up; the job situation and the military are on the right track,” Winters said. “But I think he has a PR problem.

“I think the race relations issue needs to be dealt with. He’s made some misstatements that need to be corrected. Some feelings have been hurt.”

Winters said Trump is not a racist, and if he were, he would not work with him.

“A lot of people criticize him for things I know are not accurate, and I think a lot of his critics probably haven’t met him, and it’s easy to dislike somebody you haven’t met.

“If people got to know President Trump, some of the concerns they have would be calmed a little bit. I know certain (racial) groups are literally fearful. It’s unfortunate. It’s not warranted.

“That’s not to say there are a few tweets now and then that I hate to read.”

The evangelical executive advisory board that Trump consulted during the campaign continued to meet with him after the election, as an informal group. Many of America’s top evangelicals are in the group.

Winters said the tone of the meetings changed after the election.

“There’s the opportunity to ask questions and say some things to him, but at this point, because he’s president, it’s very respectful, and he controls the meetings.”

The Religion News Service reported that evangelicals’ access to the president is unprecedented, and mainline church leaders and other faith groups have had little contact.

In May, and again in July, Winters and about 30 other faith leaders held extended meetings in Washington with Trump staffers, and then met with Trump.

After six hours of meetings July 10 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, they were invited into the Oval Office.

“We were there for quite a while, 20 or 30 minutes,” Winters said. “He was at his desk. He told us some funny stories. … He was in a very good mood.

“One of the members asked if we could pray for him, and he said, ‘Yeah, but let me tell you a couple of stories first.’

“People were a little bit tentative whether to touch him at first, because of protocol,” Winters said. “But he joked, ‘Don’t worry about this jacket, just go ahead, put your dirty hands all over it.’”

And the group gathered around him and prayed.

Winters said he is not surprised by the strong evangelical support for Trump, who got some 80 percent of the evangelical vote despite his sometimes crude language and manner.

“He’s certainly not an evangelical, in the true sense,” Winters said. “He’s certainly not someone we would look up to as leader in the Christian world.

“But he’s on our side.

“I think evangelicals supported him more than any other candidate because, for the first time in a long time, they believe he is going to fight for the things that we believe to be important.

“We don’t feel like he is a leader of the evangelicals from a Christian standpoint, but it’s good to hear a president say ‘merry Christmas’ versus ‘happy holidays.’”

Winters said the group is scheduled to meet again this month in Washington, D.C.

He said prison reform is an issue he is concerned about going forward, and one that the group is starting to address. It’s particularly important in Oklahoma with its high incarceration rates, he said.

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Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com


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