The spiritual adviser to President Trump says she has never wanted to walk away from God’s most famous assignment for her — even when she sat on a hotel bed in Paris watching her Twitter followers dwindle after news broke that she would give the benediction at Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
“My Twitter’s going down 10,000, 20,000, 30,000,” Paula White-Cain said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times. “I’m … watching it, like, ‘Oh man, where’s the bottom of this hole?’”
The petite 53-year-old televangelist with a Tupelo drawl and trademark heels opens up on her past life and association with Mr. Trump in a new memoir, “Something Greater.”
Growing up without a relationship with Jesus, she lost her alcoholic father, battled bulimia and became pregnant at 18, Ms. White-Cain says. She experienced a “divine visitation” in 1986 while beside her 3-month-old’s playpen.
After this vision, in which she saw herself preaching the Gospel to every continent, she began a Christian faith that was scorned by her mother and stepfather. It also led her to build a church in Tampa, Florida, replete with television specials and eventually landed her a phone call from a New York billionaire who was channel-surfing late at night in his South Florida mansion.
But it’s her latest act — as Christian counselor and voucher for Mr. Trump — that has made her nearly a household name.
Even on her book tour, and in between ministering to her church in Orlando, Florida, Ms. White-Cain keeps close tabs with Mr. Trump.
“Every time I walk over [to him], I don’t just go say, ‘Hello.’ You don’t know what you’re going to do. Are you going to talk as friends? Are you going to talk spiritual? Going to talk about life? Are you going to talk about ‘How’s the base?’” Ms. White-Cain said. “It’s a spiritual relationship that has grown very close.”
She is now joining the White House in an official capacity: as an adviser to its Faith and Opportunity Initiative. She will be heading up the program, a White House spokesman told Religion News Service.
Ms. White-Cain said she told Mr. Trump in 2011 that she would personally hate having him run for president, though she felt the country needed him. Had Mr. Trump stayed out of politics, the pastor probably would be running her Florida church and ministering to elite entertainers and athletes from Hollywood to New York City.
By the mid-2000s, Ms. White-Cain’s pastoral missions, documented in “Something Greater,” counted pop star Michael Jackson (whom she described as a “little boy, the guy who writes songs from a tree” after meeting him at Neverland Ranch in 2003) and Kid Rock, who wore a baby-blue tuxedo and top hat to hear her preach in Detroit. She even led a Bible study for the New York Yankees.
Ms. White-Cain grew Without Walls International Church, a Pentecostal Word of Faith ministry, with her second husband, preacher Randy White, before starting her own Paula White Ministries. In 2011, she was named senior pastor at New Destiny Christian Church in Apopka, Florida.
Mr. Trump’s campaign wasn’t her first foray into politics. In her recent interview at The Washington Times, she spoke of the politicians who had courted her over the years.
“I was at Oprah [Winfrey]’s house, and they put me on the blanket with President Obama and Michelle, except for then it was Sen. Obama,” Ms. White-Cain said. “And [before that] it was both Bushes. Mitt Romney had me to his home [and] sent me a rocking chair.”
Representatives for Mr. Romney and Ms. Winfrey did not respond to requests for confirmation.
No, what remains special about Mr. Trump, Ms. White-Cain said, is a relationship born with the New York real estate giant — 18 years ago by Ms. her account — when he cast the blue-eyed, blond televangelist known for her athletic preaching style (photographs in the book show her with hands raised, kneeling on stage and holding a shovel) as the chairwoman of his evangelical advisory committee.
Ms. White-Cain has published self-help books, but “Something Greater” is more personal. She said it took nine years to write.
The book is broken into three sections, with the opening “A Good Girl.” It delves into her divorce from Mr. White and meetup with her third and current husband, rock band Journey’s keyboardist Jonathan Cain, aboard a Southwest Airlines flight.
In the final section, titled “Divine Purpose,” Ms. White-Cain describes that Mr. Trump was skimming channels on cable television late one night at Mar-a-Lago when he stopped on a broadcast of Ms. White-Cain preaching.
He soon called Ms. White-Cain and told her, according to “Something Greater,” “Paula … you have the it factor.”
Mr. Trump, she wrote, places her somewhere between his favorite sermonists, Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart, and quoted from her own sermons.
“I grab a legal notepad and start jotting down notes as he is talking to me,” Ms. White-Cain says in “Something Greater.” “Part of me still half believes someone is pulling my leg, that this is some elaborate joke and the punch line is coming any moment.”
The book dedicates significant real estate to the fermenting of Mr. Trump and Ms. White-Cain’s relationship, including her purchase of a unit in a Trump-owned building (though she writes she has never taken a dime from him for her ministry) and his 2006 appearance on her television show, “Paula White Today.”
She spoke of her admiration of the man. “I find myself inspired by his vision, thought process, keen insight and overall discipline,” she wrote. “He’s a brilliant thinker who tends to walk several steps ahead of the masses.”
It was Mr. Trump’s spiritual upbringing, however, that spoke to her from the first phone call. Mr. Trump’s father moved the family from their First Presbyterian church to pews of Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel, whose accolades spoke to a generation whose ambitions were broken by the Great Depression. In their first phone conversation, said Ms. White-Cain, Mr. Trump shared almost verbatim one sermon that deeply affected him. It encouraged people to never quit.
“Obviously, that was an impactful sermon for him,” Ms. White-Cain said. “Norman Vincent Peale brought the Gospel in a very practical way in our time of history for not only New York but our nation and also the Trump family.”
She said “don’t quit” remains a core ethos for Mr. Trump.
Ms. White-Cain’s advancement has been fodder for liberal and evangelical critics alike. In 2018, a federal judge ordered her to pay $12,000 to a Seattle woman who countersued Ms. White-Cain after she sought to shut down the woman’s YouTube channel, which plays critical commentary over videos of Ms. White-Cain preaching.
But she argues the dogged allegations that she is a prosperity preacher — she denies it emphatically in the interview, saying she does not believe in “Lotto God” — in part, derive from the mechanics of her ministry.
“I felt a mandate to go on TV,” said Ms. White-Cain, whose show appeared on BET and Trinity Broadcasting Network. “You’re paying your own airtime. You have three minutes’ commercial content. … I don’t just get to wiggle my nose and money drops out of the sky. It’s just part of the business.”
The interplay of money and faith is a theme throughout her book and her life. Although Ms. White-Cain noted that money destroyed her father (her grandfather grew wealthy from expanding electricity over Mississippi), she recognizes the real need people have to relying on financing.
“It’s a huge subject in the Word of God,” Ms. White-Cain said. “In the New Testament, Jesus talks more about stewardship and finances and management of your life than anything else outside the love of God.”
Financial stress is a tension she understands. Her memoir recounts that she and her first husband, a musician in Atlantic City, New Jersey, couldn’t make rent one time, and she discovered $320 in a jean jacket purchased from a thrift store. She refers to the moment as God hearing her prayers.
“He answered this one, this very specific need, in a very specific way,” Ms. White-Cain writes in “Something Greater.” “I have no doubt.”
Asked whether she believes that was God’s intervention, Ms. White-Cain said she doesn’t understand the “rules and regulations and the politics of the church,” but she knows what it was to be an “18-year-old girl who is hungry for God.”
“That innocence is maintained in this 53-year-old girl,” Ms. White-Cain said. “Not that naivety, but that purity, so there are things that I don’t understand. I don’t understand that I’ve seen miracles, [that] I’ve watched God do some things that are very supernatural.”
The book culminates with her benediction at Mr. Trump’s January 2017 inaugural, in which she shared the stage with dignitaries including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who gently chided her for shooting selfies and told her to call him “Uncle Dick,” itself a miraculous trajectory from what she likes to say was a “messed-up girl from Mississippi.”
As she listened to Mr. Trump’s address, she compared her fidelity to Mr. Trump’s Christian counseling to gymnastics.
“To me, it’s no different in the big picture. I honor and recognize each assignment,” Ms. White-Cain wrote. “The key is, do I land? Do I finish the course?”
“If I feel like God gives me an assignment, I’m not walking way from it,” Ms. White-Cain said. “It’s greater than Mr. Trump, though it is inclusive of him, if that makes sense.”
Although she would eschew the material for the spiritual gains, Ms. White-Cain said, she has found that staying the course reaps benefits in the long run. After she publicly supported Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, no one left her church in Florida and only four corporate sponsors of Paula White Ministries pulled out, she said.
“It took a couple of months,” Ms. White said, “[but] after that went down, [Twitter followers] went up tremendously.”