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 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.
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