16 people who shaped the 2016 election: Pastor Mark Burns

By Nov. 9, the votes will have been cast and counted, there will be a winner and a loser, and the country will begin a slow return to normal. Historians will have their say on the outcome, but all of us who have lived through this election will carry away indelible memories of a shocking year in American history: of a handful of ordinary people, swept up in the rush of history; of a series of moments on which the fate of the nation seemed, at least briefly, to turn; and of places on the map that became symbols of a divided nation. As we count down to Election Day, Yahoo News has identified 16 unforgettable people, moments and places.

He was a last-minute replacement for Ivanka Trump’s rabbi, Haskel Lookstein, who withdrew from giving the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention when, as he explained in a letter to his congregation, “the whole matter turned from rabbinic to political.” Pastor Mark Burns, pastor of the Harvest Praise & Worship Center in Easley, N.C., who had already taken on the difficult role of being Donald Trump’s emissary to the black community, had no problems with the political part of the assignment. After humbly promising a prayer for “unity and love” and “coming together as a nation,” the first words out of his mouth as he bounded onto the stage were “Hello, Republicans!” He then made it clear that the “unity” he meant was party unity: “Republicans, we got to be united because our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party!”

His highly partisan prayer, and his eight-minute speech later in the convention, both delivered in a full-throated, arm-waving bellow, gave him a national platform, after years as a second-tier figure in the “prosperity gospel” world dominated by the likes of Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar. This strain of evangelicalism, with its emphasis on the worldly goodies that Jesus can bestow on his followers, has an obvious affinity for a candidate like Trump. And Burns isn’t one to hold back on the praise, comparing him, in an interview with Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga, to Winston Churchill. “It’s important for the president of the United States to be strong and don’t let other people bully him, and that’s one thing I love about Donald Trump,” he declared.

Pastor Mark Burns, co-founder and CEO of the NOW television network, delivers a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention.
Pastor Mark Burns, co-founder and CEO of the NOW television network, delivers a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Burns, like his patron, also got into trouble on Twitter, retweeting a cartoon of Hillary Clinton in blackface, a red flag to many African-Americans, no matter the context. And it turned out that his official biography misstated some facts about his background, most notably that he claimed a college degree he never received. Questioned about the discrepancies in a TV interview, he stalked out. But his message — that Democrats have failed African-Americans and only care about their votes, that black people need to get over “what happened 400 years ago” (i.e., slavery) and that police shootings are a greatly exaggerated problem (he led the convention delegates in a chant of “All lives matter”) unquestionably resonated with the Republican base. If his role was to bring black people into the Trump coalition, the polls, which show Trump in some cases within a margin of error of zero, suggest he hasn’t moved the needle much. But even a pastor can’t be expected to perform miracles. — By Jerry Adler

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