“Peter taught me to peel back the modern, 1950s interpretation of the Bible and go back to the original text and intent of what God was saying to us,” he said. “It became crystal-clear that man’s teachings on the Bible have been misused and egocentric and manipulative.” The result, Grenell said, was that he finally embraced his identity as a gay man and also “fell back in love with the idea of God, Jesus Christ, and the greatest sacrifice to atone for sins ever.”
Two decades later, Grenell can still be found in church most Sundays, joined by his partner of 15 years, Matt Lashey, who is himself an evangelical Christian and a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The couple reads the Bible and prays together each day, and their home is often filled with the melodies of Hillsong Worship, a chart-topping Christian “praise band” from Australia.
One would be hard-pressed to find many foreign-policy experts who speak about theology with Grenell’s openness and fluency. That’s in part what makes his potential appointment to the Trump administration significant—with his faith and foreign-policy credentials acting as a bridge to conservative Christians who overwhelmingly support the president.
To start, some of Trump’s highest-profile evangelical supporters don’t outright oppose Grenell’s nomination. Jerry Falwell Jr., a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, opposes same-sex marriage. He is the son of the Liberty University and Moral Majority founder who spent much of his career fiercely battling the so-called “gay agenda.” Yet when asked about Grenell possibly taking on the ambassadorship, Falwell Jr. said that his chief concern is that Grenell’s positions related to NATO are aligned with the president’s. He “would not oppose [Grenell] simply because he is gay.”
Robert Jeffress is a Baptist megachurch preacher in Dallas, Texas, and another member of the advisory board, who gave a private service to the Trump family on Inauguration Day. He has never been shy about expressing his views about the LGBT community. In 2011, he claimed that “homosexuality is being crammed down our throats,” and accused LGBT people of using brainwashing to “inject homosexuality” into mainstream culture. He has also said that LGBT Americans live a “filthy” and “miserable” lifestyle.
But when asked whether he was bothered by Grenell’s possible nomination, Jeffress balked, noting that the qualifications for an ambassador are different than for a minister. He added: “Some of the criteria I would use might differ from the president's—depending on the position being considered. However, the country chose President Trump, not me, to lead the nation.” Others on Trump’s board, including Texas megachurch pastor Jack Graham, refused to comment on the matter.
The reticence of these leaders is curious given how outspoken so many have been about same-sex marriage and relationships in the past, and given the possible effect Grenell’s appointment could have on conversations about identity among religious people in America. Just 27 percent of white evangelical Christians support gay marriage—less than in any other religious group—and only 36 percent say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to Pew Research Center surveys.