You’ve probably noticed that the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland has seen its share of controversies so far. But here’s one thing you may not have seen: A South Carolina pastor who delivered a benediction on the first night of the convention seems to think that invoking Jesus Christ is a good way to unite Americans.

During his remarks, the Rev. Mark Burns, a prosperity gospel preacher who is head of the Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley and co-founder of the Christian television network NOW, urged convention goers to support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump because he is “a man who believes in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Burns went on to stress that “unity is needed” in both the Republican Party and the United States, yet he referred to Republicans as “the conservative party, under God” and closed his prayer with, “In Jesus’ name, if you believe it, shout: ‘Amen!’”

The Rev. Mark Burns at a Donald Trump rally. (Photo by Debra R. Lee)

It is unfortunate that Burns took his opportunity at the podium to alienate just about anyone who doesn’t share his narrow view of Christianity. And it’s contradictory for him to call for unity while simultaneously excluding a large percentage of Americans.

That Burns made it to the big stage at the RNC is something of a surprise given that he once expressed deep doubts about Trump. As the Los Angeles Times noted, Burns said that prior to an October meeting in which Trump met with a group of African-American pastors, including Burns, the pastor was “full of apprehension” about the real estate mogul.

It seems Burns changed his mind at the meeting.

“For those of us who are evangelical leaders and pastors, we are led by listening to the spirit of an individual, and we also believe that through the Holy Spirit, [it] will reveal to us whether someone is truthful or not,” Burns told the Times in February. “All of us, especially after that first meeting, and especially us in the African-American evangelical community, [we] came out believing that this person is legit.”

It is also surprising that Burns would describe Trump as “a man who believes in the name of Jesus Christ” given that the Religious Right has expressed plenty of doubt about Trump’s faith credentials in the past.

After all, Trump is a thrice-married reality television star who had never claimed to be a man of faith until recently. But there he was at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit back in October 2015, literally waving a Bible to prove the importance of religion in his life.

As Katherine Stewart, a journalist and Religious Right critic who is the author of The Good News Club, noted in an article for Americans United’s Church and State magazine, Trump has made some dubious claims about his religious habits.

“Trump’s efforts to make himself presentable to religious conservatives have an air of farce,” Stewart wrote. “‘Nobody reads the Bible more than me,” Trump has said. Does anybody anywhere believe that? He describes himself as a Presbyterian and claimed he goes to the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue. But Marble Collegiate isn’t Presbyterian, and it has said that he is not an active member.” 

Nonetheless, during his benediction Burns said:

“Let’s pray together: Father, God, in the name of Jesus, Lord we are so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, you’re giving him the words to unite this party, this country; that we, together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party….”

Only Trump himself knows for sure what his beliefs are. As for American voters, we’ll find out in November whether or not they believe in Trump.