President Trump spent Sunday morning golfing, then showed up unannounced at a church in northern Virginia, wearing khakis, a blue polo and a blazer.
The conservative evangelical preacher Franklin Graham, one of Trump’s strongest backers, had declared this past Sunday as a special day to pray for Trump as his “enemies continue to try everything to destroy him.” But David Platt, senior pastor at the McLean Bible Church, didn’t intend to pray for the president in his Sunday sermon.
After his sermon, Platt stepped aside to take a break. He was called backstage and told that Trump was on his way. Platt, who did not endorse Trump in the 2016 election, has a nonpartisan approach to preaching. However, he decided to join Trump onstage and pray for the president.
The pastor defended his decision in a statement posted to the church’s website on Sunday night. McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., is a nondenominational megachurch with several locations in the Washington, D.C., area.
Platt acknowledged that some of his congregants were “hurt” by his decision for a variety of reasons. In his prayer for Trump, Platt invoked 1 Timothy 2:1-6, a passage declaring that prayers should be made for all people, including “kings and all who are in high positions.”
“My aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party, but to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays,” Platt wrote.
Trump’s church visit comes as American evangelicals are increasingly divided between pro-Trump conservatives, like Graham, and a more liberal bloc that criticizes Trump’s actions as not aligning with Christian beliefs.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a Sunday statement that Trump had visited the church “to visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.”
There was no mention of the 12 people killed Friday in a Virginia Beach shooting during Platt’s prayer for Trump, who did not deliver any remarks. In the five-minute speech, the pastor asked God to endow Trump with grace, mercy and wisdom. Before his prayer, Platt mentioned Graham’s declaration that Sunday be a “special day” to pray for Trump.
“Many of you may have seen that there was a call to, particularly on this Sunday, pray for our president,” Platt said. “We don’t want to do that just on this Sunday, we want to do that continually, day in and day out.”
Platt joked that his church, about 16 miles from Washington, had a “unique opportunity” to pray for leaders who show up unexpectedly, receiving laughs from Trump and the crowd. Platt said it was an honor to pray for a leader in any position, regardless of political party. People cheered during parts of Platt’s prayer.
Trump’s unannounced visit to the church and Platt’s decision to pray for him were met with a mix of praise and criticism on social media. George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and an outspoken Trump critic, criticized the absence of a prayer for victims of the Virginia Beach shooting.
“The White House lies to the public and says the prayers are for the victims of the shooting in Virginia Beach,” Conway tweeted on Tuesday. “Many in the evangelical congregation understandably take offense at Trump’s political, narcissistic use of their church.”
So let me see if we now have this straight:
After a long round of golf on Sunday,an unshowered Trump, still in golf wear, arrives virtually without warning at an evangelical Christian church in NoVa. The White House asks the pastor to pray for Donald J. Trump, ...
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) June 4, 2019
Jonathan Merritt, author of the book “Learning to Speak God From Scratch,” said pastors need to consider how visits from politicians can be used for optics. “This was a photo op for a politician who isn’t remotely religious,” Merritt tweeted.
Eugene Cho of Seattle tweeted on Sunday that he was grateful for Platt’s prayer. “It doesn’t pander to a leader, a party, or partisanship but rather, seeks to be faithful to the beautiful and convicting Gospel of Christ,” Cho wrote.
Other pastors, like Steve Gaines in Memphis, thanked Platt for praying for Trump. Gaines said in a tweet that his church also prayed for Trump on Sunday.
In his Sunday statement, Platt said he was thankful for Trump’s visit but apologized for any hurt he may have caused to his church members.
“I love every member of this church, and I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God,” Platt wrote.
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