SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — They walked to the sanctuary in the frozen silence before dawn, footsteps crunching over the snow. Soon, hundreds joined in line. It was January 2016, and the unlikely Republican front-runner, Donald J. Trump, had come to town.
He was the boastful, thrice-married, foul-mouthed star of “The Apprentice.” They were one of the most conservative Christian communities in the nation, with 19 churches in a town of about 7,500 people.
Many were skeptical, and came to witness the spectacle for themselves. A handful stood in silent protest. But when the doors opened and the pews filled, Mr. Trump’s fans welcomed him by chanting his name. A man waved a “Silent Majority Stands With Trump” sign. A woman pointed a lone pink fingernail up to the sky.
In his dark suit and red tie, Mr. Trump stood in front of a three-story-tall pipe organ and waved his arms in time with their shouts: Trump, Trump, Trump.
The 67-minute speech Mr. Trump gave that day at Dordt University, a Christian college in Sioux Center, would become infamous, instantly covered on cable news and to this day still invoked by his critics. But the line that gained notoriety — the promise that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and “wouldn’t lose any voters” — overshadowed another message that morning.
“I will tell you, Christianity is under tremendous siege, whether we want to talk about it or we don’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Trump said.