NEW YORK — Eric Teetsel had intended to stand outside Donald Trump’s meeting with evangelical leaders Tuesday and talk with attendees he knew about why he thought the gathering was a bad idea.
But when Teetsel, a 32-year-old evangelical political activist who was Sen. Marco Rubio’s faith adviser during the Florida Republican’s presidential campaign, arrived at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, he felt compelled to do something more to speak out against Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
He walked to a Walgreens, looking for poster board, so he could create a handmade sign on the spot and hold it outside the meeting. But Walgreens didn’t have any.
“I wondered if that was a sign from God that I shouldn’t do this,” Teetsel told me, sitting at a table on the ninth floor of the cavernous hotel. “Then I walked to Staples and found some poster board.”
He used a red marker in his bag to write out a message for attendees, spectators and reporters gathered: “Torture is not pro-life. Racism is not pro-life. Misogyny is not pro-life. Murdering the children of terrorists is not pro-life.”
Teetsel included a Scripture verse, Proverbs 29:2, at the bottom, which says, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”
He stood outside on Broadway, a former presidential campaign adviser holding a handwritten sign denouncing his own party’s presidential nominee amid the spectacle of Times Square.
Teetsel is not an impartial observer, politically speaking. He traveled to New York this week from his home in Kansas to participate in meetings with leaders of Better for America, a group organizing a campaign-in-waiting for an independent candidate who could give voters an alternative to both Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
But Teetsel did feel compelled to do more than just maintain a low-key presence in the lobby outside the meeting between Trump and several hundred evangelical leaders.
“Christians are called to live out the Gospel in every aspect of their lives, including politics. It matters. It’s important. But we have to be sure that we are representing the Gospel in truth,” he said. “I think we know enough about Donald Trump to know that a Christian response should be prayer for him, but also a prophetic witness about what is true.”
The meeting was touted as including 1,000 evangelicals, but one person in the meeting said the number was closer to 500 invited participants, many of whom brought spouses with them.
Teetsel noted that many of the people who helped organize the meeting — Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council — had endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., in the primary. While Trump won over evangelicals during the primary who were nominal churchgoers and less devout, this meeting was about getting Cruz evangelicals to do more than just hold their nose and vote for him. These are politically active Christians who can influence local and regional networks of like-minded faith voters.
“I think there are people who wish they didn’t have to be but are genuinely torn,” Teetsel said. “It makes sense that people would have trouble coming to grips with the fact that people of faith have already lost. If you care about life and marriage and religious liberty, you’ve already lost.”
Teetsel said he was disappointed that so many evangelicals are supporting Trump.
“A lesson that I have learned from this cycle is that very few Christians actually live according to a biblical worldview. I think that this cycle has taught me we have done a terrible job of teaching everyday Christians to live out their faith.”