The shining city on a hill is really, really glitzy.

Presidential inaugurations are always an American civil religious festival that reflects the personality and faith of the person being sworn in. Today is no exception.

But instead of a call to service (Recall Jimmy Carter’s “shining city on a hill” address, as only one example.) today’s messages will be all about the hand of God picking a particular person and whose wealth is a sign of God’s particular blessing.

This morning’s private pre-inauguration prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square is a tradition dating back to the administration of FDR. Today’s service will feature Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Jeffress is a proponent of the so-called “prosperity Gospel” with an apocalyptic edge and is known for his disparaging remarks about gays, women, and Muslims.

Jeffress leads a 12,000-member megachurch in Dallas and is a frequent guest on Fox News. But to many Americans, he may be best known for his frequent condemnations of Mormonism as a “cult” during the 2012 presidential campaign. He urged Christians not to vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon, during the Republican primary. He later supported Romney over President Barack Obama.
Jeffress has also called Islam and Mormonism heresies “from the pit of hell,” suggested that the Catholic church was led astray by Satan, accused Obama of “paving the way” for the Antichrist and spread false statistics about the prevalence of HIV among gays, who he said live a “miserable” and “filthy” lifestyle.
In recent years, Jeffress has frequently denounced Islam, calling it an “evil religion” that “promotes pedophilia” because the Prophet Muhammed married a 9-year-old girl. (Many modern Muslim scholars disagree about her age.) The pastor has also said that Mormons, Muslims and Hindus “worship a false god.”
The Rector of the parish, which has hosted past presidents and their families, said that the choice of the preacher was not his.
The Rev. Luis León, rector of St. John’s Episcopal, told CNN about the plan for Jeffress to deliver the sermon when CNN inquired about the event. Leon has been involved in logistical planning of the event but not the choice of speakers. A second source involved in the service confirmed to CNN on Thursday that Jeffress is scheduled to take part.
In 2013, León gave the benediction at Barack Obama’s second inaugural, and Bishop Gene Robinson gave the benediction in 2009.
Today’s choice is in keeping with the style and tenor of the other religious leaders taking part in today inaugural events: clergy and preachers who are conservative, media-savvy, and, especially among the Protestants, reflect a version of the prosperity and positive-thinking approaches the new President is drawn to.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is drawn to those preachers who say that one’s wealth is a sign of God’s approval. Paula White has her critics in the evangelical world, some of whom consider her a heretic, but she endorsed Trump’s candidacy, and he reciprocated by inviting White to pray at his swearing-in ceremony.

Another pro-Trump evangelist who will be praying at the inauguration is Franklin Graham. During a recent interview with Lou Dobbs on the Fox Business Network, Graham said “the hand of God” was evident in Trump’s election.

Jeffress tweeted the topic of his sermon, as reported by the New York Daily News:

“Honored to deliver sermon ‘When God Chooses a Leader’ for Trump/Pence private family service,” the pastor said over Twitter.

Today, the Episcopal Churches where today’s events will happen will serve mainly as the traditional venue for these civil religious event, but the voice from the pulpits will reflect a rather different message, and a very different understanding of our response to God as citizens who are also people of faith.


Image courtesy of The Huffington Post

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  1. Philip B. Spivey

    “A burnt offering will follow this sermon”.

  2. Helen Kromm

    A remarkable development that reinforces the old adage that just when you think a situation can’t possibly get any worse, it does. It’s difficult to know what to say or how to comment on a development such as Robert Jeffress being permitted to deliver a sermon from an Episcopal sanctuary.

    And not just any sermon, but one uniquely geared to this particular inauguration. The press has reported that Jeffress will use the story of Nehemiah in his sermon. Surely the story of a wall builder and racial purifier will find favor with Trump.

  3. Lots of the belief that God shows his blessing in material ways — all through the Bible. I don’t buy it but it is there.

  4. Philip B. Spivey

    So very true, Ann. But not so for Jesus: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you want to be my followers, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.’ ” ~Matthew 16:24 (ES).
    Sounds like the Jesus Movement to me.

  5. Mary-Jo Diaz Weber

    I am shocked and grieved that such preaching took place in an Episcopal church. What witness did our church provide? It seems none. It occurs to me that when a couple wish to get married in our church, or ask for their baby to be baptized, there is a thoughtful process and the rector is in charge of the service. Why does this man, who demeaned women, Latinos, and the disabled, among other egregious behaviors, get to dictate the service? Who will take us seriously when we say we are following Jesus?

  6. Isabel F. Steilberg

    No one preaches in a parish except at the invitation of the rector………………..

  7. Doug Jamison

    I cannot understand why clergy in that diocese seem to believe that political and secular concerns should take precedence over the witness of the Episcopal Church.

    • Anand Gnanadesikan

      Umm… can you point me to a time in the history of the Episcopal church where this was *not* the dominant position?

  8. Dick Mitchell

    I believe the “shining city on a hill” reference is to President Reagan, not President Carter.

  9. Kathy Franklin

    In my experience, the Episcopal Church is a place where visitors are welcomed when no other church will.
    Allowing an infamous bigot to preach in our church is a shame and even though I know the value of our “venues” as historical scenes doesn’t mean that we can’t have standards. I’m sorry to be so judgmental.

  10. Michael Thorne

    The events at historic Episcopal Churches in Washington this week shed a light on our church. Rather, they show the absence of a church in any manner recognizable that would include such radical concepts as Christian and a man called Jesus.

    What this a spotlight shows is the publicity seeking careerists in clerical garb who are caretakers of buildings, that were once worship places, and now stage settings for secular spectacles which contain a very thin veneer of anything recognizable as the faith tradition of my family.

    So when I bring my family to Washington this Spring I will skip the cathedral and St. John’s and hope they will be reconsecrated as churches again.

  11. Robert Martin

    The Diocese plays a special role at times as the seat of National religious gatherings and this particular church has a unique role within that. The sermon he preached was fairly vanilla for him. Is it too far outside the main-stream of Christianity to preach it? Pretty close as far as Anglicans go but hey: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” Maybe we need an asterisk?

    Just because someone comes to your church and preaches something totally antithetical to you doesn’t mean your church is like that too.

    • Michael Thorne

      These churches ‘play a role’, ‘play a unique role’
      As if they are windup toys, or fake buildings on a movie production studio. Really. The buildings play a role, And those living breathing human beings called vestry, deans and bishops are what?
      Robots,? automatons? An extremist bigots, preaches from the pulpit and the robots stand in silently unaware. I’m from a land called Maine where vestry, deacons, priests and bishops are live and sentient and take moral stands.

      • Jay Croft

        No preaching at the service today.

        I didn’t like all those clergy from independent fundamentalist churches offering prayer. But I felt that on the whole, the service went quite well.

  12. Let’s be truthful and real, The Episcopal Church is a “prosperity church”. The reason St. John’s and the Washington National Cathedral were most pleased to host the two services is to the benefit of the church treasury. During any time of a year the churches welcome the receiving of gifts of “prosperity”. The Gospel we preach is most acceptable to “money changers”.
    The “Trumps” of the world have bold “prosperity” gifts of gold that they hold. They are willing to give to the church fold before the gifts crumble to a mold. Must find the preacher and church that has that kind of Jesus, that can be sold.

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