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South Carolina churchgoers may fill pews every Sunday, but this weekend they'll be filling voting booths. Republican presidential candidates are making their way through the Palmetto State ahead of the primary election this Saturday, and issues of religion and faith are taking centerstage.
Conservative Christians make up more than half of the GOP electorate in the state—prime territory for presidential contenders Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson, who have long espoused their religious conservatism. Donald Trump, a self-described Presbyterian, has also been courting Christian voters in South Carolina.
And Pope Francis isn't making things easy for him.
On Thursday, Francis came out to denounce Trump, saying that the billionaire businessman does not represent the Christian faith because he plans to deport millions of immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“A person who thinks only about building walls—wherever they may be—and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Pope Francis told reporters. "This is not in the Gospel."
Trump wasted no time in firing back.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said on Thursday at a campaign rally in South Carolina. "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”
Though Trump's brash statements may not be appealing to some conservative Christians, Pastor Mark Burns is a Trump supporter. He's an African-American evangelical pastor in South Carolina who has voted in the past for President Bill Clinton and President Obama (first term). Burns says that he's gotten to know Trump personally, and is confident that his core values and straight talk will align well with conservative Christians.
While he admits that Trump might not be pulpit-ready, he argues that that's not what he and other evangelicals are looking for.
"We're not voting for the next pastor of America, we're voting for the next president of America," said Burns with added flourish.
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