President-elect Donald Trump may have struggled to attract A-list celebrities to perform at his inaugural ceremonies, but there will be no shortage of clergy on hand Friday to pray him into office.
Six religious leaders are expected to speak during the inauguration: Protestant pastors Franklin Graham, Paula White, Samuel Rodriguez and Wayne T. Jackson will join Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Rabbi Marvin Hier. Trump’s lineup reportedly is the largest contingent of clergy at an inauguration at least since Ronald Reagan last took the oath of office.
Several of Trump’s pastors made news during the presidential campaign:
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and leader of a ministry named for his father, hosted “Decision America” rallies in every state to encourage conservative Christians to vote for “godly leaders” who would address the “spiritual cancer” in America. Graham did not formally endorse Trump, but he appeared with Trump during the president-elect’s “thank you” tour and Graham credited divine intervention in Trump’s victory: “I believe that God’s hand intervened (election) night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country.”
Franklin Graham, a pastor known for his Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ views, will pray at the Trump inauguration.
Pastor Paula White, a Florida televangelist who preaches the “prosperity gospel” – a belief that God wants people to be wealthy and that those with money are evidence of his blessings. It’s a controversial theory, but it’s not hard to see why adherents would support a billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star for president. “[T]his is a very smart alliance,” Kate Bowler, professor of Christian history at Duke University, told Time about Trump’s link to prosperity gospel believers. “They are like him, they are outsiders with an unusual amount of popular support but not as much cultural credibility.”
White is the only member of the inaugural prayer team who also served on Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the election. A longtime friend of Trump’s, White is often referred to as his spiritual advisor. She stumped for him during the campaign and told Politico, “God is not new to Mr. Trump. He absolutely has a heart and a hunger and a relationship with God.”
Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Detroit’s Great Faith Ministries International did not endorse Trump, but he did spark controversy when he hosted the candidate at his church and interviewed him for his Christian television show. A registered Democrat, Jackson said he was not sponsoring a Trump rally but was taking advantage of an opportunity to learn and share Trump’s views. The visit was seen as an attempt by Trump’s campaign to make inroads with black voters, but his arrival at Jackson’s church was met by protesters.
Like White, Jackson preaches the prosperity gospel.
The second half of Trump’s inaugural prayer team features some less-expected names. The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, was critical of Trump’s stance on immigration, stating last spring: “I’m not endorsing Donald Trump, I’m actually very opposed to his rhetoric on most issues. At the top of the list, his rhetoric on immigrants, on immigration, is unacceptable.” But just a few weeks before the election, Rodriguez told followers Hillary Clinton’s stance on abortion was more of a moral dilemma than Trump’s desire to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and one of the country’s most prominent Catholic leaders, is conservative on social issues such as abortion, birth control access and marriage equality, but he criticized Trump’s rhetoric on immigration in a July 2015 editorial in The Washington Post. “I take seriously the Bible’s teaching that we are to welcome the stranger, one of the most frequently mentioned moral imperatives in both the Old and New Testament,” Dolan wrote. “As an American, I take equally seriously the great invitation and promise of Lady Liberty.” In a separate column on immigration that ran in another newspaper, Dolan went out of his way to attack Americans United. He also seems to believe that women can buy birth control at 7-Eleven stores.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Los Angeles-based human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center, has been critical of Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims. A statement from Hier and another center official was posted on the center’s website in December 2015: “Mr. Trump, …lumping all Muslims in the crosshairs of the Terrorism crisis only hurts the legitimate campaign against Islamist Fundamentalism and demeans law-abiding American citizens.” Despite his disagreements with Trump on some issues, Hier felt it would have been rude to turn down the invitation to pray during the inauguration. He outlined his thoughts about the matter in a recent media interview.
While the evangelical Christians who shepherd Trump into office will be well-represented at Friday’s ceremony, I’ll give Trump some credit for the attempt at diversity in his lineup of spiritual leaders. Hier will be the first rabbi invited to speak at a presidential inauguration since Reagan’s second inauguration. White will be only the second woman ever to offer a prayer at a presidential inauguration, following Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights icon Medgar Evers, who offered the invocation at President Barack Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony.
I’d be more impressed if Trump had included an imam in the lineup, given Muslims are one of the communities that felt most threatened by the rhetoric of the presidential campaign. Instead, on the eve of the inauguration, Trump was challenged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to remove “notorious Islamophobe” Graham from the program: “If President-elect Trump truly seeks to unite our nation as he promised in his acceptance speech, he will limit the list of those offering prayers at the inauguration to religious leaders who work to bring us together, not to create divisions between faiths.”