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How Donald Trump courts evangelical Christian voters

Donald Trump spoke at Christian and conservative Liberty University on Monday, continuing his efforts to earn the support of America's evangelical Christian community.

The Republican presidential candidate currently holds a sizable lead among these voters, with 42 percent of evangelicals reporting they support Trump, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll from mid-January. Ted Cruz comes in second place with 25 percent of voters.

Trump's relative popularity among religious voters has perplexed the news media and commentators covering the election, as Buzzfeed's senior political reporter McKay Coppins noted in a column for The Times.

"There is an absurdity in seeing Donald Trump trying to play the role of 2016 religion referee," he wrote. "This is a man whose sincerest praise for the Bible is to deem it even better than his best-selling book 'The Art of the Deal,' a man whose most famous religious experience is having reportedly struck up a romance with his second wife among the pews of a Manhattan church (while he was still married to Ivana.)"

Trump is a Presbyterian who has spoken out against Muslims and other religious minorities repeatedly during campaign appearances, Coppins wrote.

Religious leaders joined reporters in mocking Trump's appearance at Liberty, where he referred to the biblical book of Second Corinthians as "Two Corinthians" and cursed twice, as NPR reported.

The Atlantic noted that "as Trump was speaking, Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist leader, issued a stream of disapproving tweets."

However, Liberty students and other evangelical Christians have praised his efforts to connect his religious beliefs to his campaign. They appeared to appreciate any effort to bring faith to bear on election season.

"The Bible says we don't know the heart," said Liberty sophomore Kathy Abdallah to NPR. "He says he is (a Christian) at the very least."

Evangelical voters appreciate Trump's conviction, even when they can't confirm the sincerity of his faith, The New York Times reported.

"In dozens of interviews with evangelical voters in 16 states, from every region of the country outside the Northeast, those supporting (Trump) sounded a familiar refrain: that his heart was in the right place, that his intentions for the country were pure, that he alone was capable of delivering … salvation in the here and now," the article noted.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas