Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson's claim last week that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently accepted "a relationship with Christ" has sent shock waves throughout the Christian and media worlds.
Dobson, who delivered that message during an interview with GodFactor.com's Michael Anthony, referred to Trump as a "baby Christian" who isn't well-versed in evangelical language, but said that he has hope for the boisterous businessman.
"There are a lot of people ministering to [Trump] personally. He did accept a relationship with Christ," Dobson said. "I know the person who led him to Christ and that's fairly recent."
While the popular evangelical leader said that he believes Trump did make a genuine committment, he sees him as a "baby Christian," and encouraged listeners to pray for him.
"We all need to be praying for him, especially if there's a possibility of him being our next chief executive officer," he said. "He refers a lot to religion and not much to faith and belief. You've got to cut him some slack. He didn't grow up like we did."
On Sunday, though, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort wasn't willing to confirm or deny reports of a born-again experience, saying on "Meet the Press" that people would need to ask the candidate himself if they wanted an answer.
"I'm not going to speak to Donald Trump and his embrace of religion," he said. "You'll have to talk to him about that."
Considering some of the pushback that Trump has received from evangelicals based on his rhetoric and a series of much-publicized faith-based gaffes, it's no surprise that some critics are questioning the veracity of these claims.
Frank Schaeffer, son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer, who long ago left the so-called "religious right," penned a sarcasm-tinged blog post about Trump's purported conversion.
"Now Trump is born again, a blood-bought, saved, lamb following the Good S[hepherd], he can build on the fact he won a majority of evangelical voters already in the Republican primaries when he was still lost," he wrote.
Schaeffer continued, "Now he’s saved he’s going to build on Jesus’ precious blood along with his prominent brothers in Christ like Dobson and Sen. Ted Cruz who Dobson had endorsed before Trump got saved."
Dr. John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, also responded with a blog post of his own criticizing Dobson and proclaiming that Trump "by all accounts, exemplifies very few signs of Christian character."
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson, founder of Red State and a well-known Christian and political voice, also held little back, imploring Christians to be ashamed of the Dobson story.
"So let’s get this straight. Less than a week ago, evangelicals meet with Trump and, after much criticism for the embrace some gave him, someone told James Dobson who told the media that Trump found Jesus recently," Erickson wrote. "I thought he was a Christian last year."
And he wasn't done there.
"If you are a Christian and do not have a sense of shame over this story, you should. This is shameful and embarrassing," Erickson continued. "It is made more embarrassing that someone would take advantage of an 80-year-old James Dobson."
Adding to the discussion, progressive Christian writer Benjamin Corey responded to Dobson's Trump claim by appealing to Matthew 23:15.
"I'm reminded of Jesus when he said, 'What sorrow awaits you teachers of the law! For you cross land and sea to make a single convert, and then you make them twice the sons of hell that you are,'" Corey wrote. "But I'd love to be wrong ... and would love to wake up to Trump encouraging us to welcome immigrants, feed the poor and to love our enemies."
And Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latino studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, penned an open letter to Trump that was published by Baptist News Global. The text pointed to some of the Bible's lessons on wealth and Jesus to make the point that "faith without works is dead."
Conservative radio host Stacy Washington, though, took a different approach, noting in a Facebook post that "God exhorts us to pray for ALL of our government leaders in the federal, state and local levels."
Washington admitted that she's "not too good at that," then proceeded to share 1 Timothy 2:1-4, which encourages that sentiment.
Anthony, who recorded the interview with Dobson, offered up some candid, yet fair-minded commentary about the possibility of Trump's genuine conversion, while balancing that sentiment with an understanding of why so many of the candidate's critics are skeptical.
"If God gets a hold of Trump, it won't be the first time people didn't believe it. It won't be the first time that a terrible person who lived completely against Christ, came to know him," he wrote. "Saul, who became Paul, is a great example. I'm not saying Trump is a real believer. I don't know. But if he is, there will eventually be fruit. In the meantime, it's not surprising to see people be skeptical."
Dobson's recorded comments came after Trump's June 21 meeting with more than 900 evangelical leaders, with Johnnie Moore, who was present at the massive gathering and an earlier event with a much smaller crowd, telling Deseret News National on Friday that Trump stated his commitment to religious liberty during the event.
Moore, who is among those serving on Trump's evangelical executive board alongside former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed and many others, said that the board's purpose is to offer advice to the campaign and to help build a "consistent dialogue between Mr. Trump and the evangelical community."
Moore said that Trump's tone in the smaller gathering truly struck him — and it's a detail that might surprise many of those who are more than familiar with the candidate's oft-times boisterous nature.
"What really, really struck me in the earlier meeting was how interested he was in listening, in feedback and criticism," Moore said. "There was a certain humility he exhibited in his interaction with these leaders."
Moore made no mention of a potential born-again conversion.
Throughout the 2016 campaign cycle, Trump has been plagued with gaffes that have led some to question his conservative and Christian chops, including his reference to "Two Corinthians" and a church incident during which he nearly placed money in a communion plate.