For the most part, the religious leaders who took part in Friday’s inauguration ceremony of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States emphasized piety over politics, offering prayers which, in principle, could be shared by Americans of virtually any political persuasion.
Prior to Trump taking the oath of office, three prominent figures on the American Christian landscape were called upon to offer Scriptural readings and an invocation: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who went first; Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an Evangelical; and Pastor Paula White-Cain of the New Destiny Christian Center, an Evangelical and televangelist.
Dolan delivered a reading from the Book of Wisdom, asking God to help leaders “to govern the world in holiness and righteousness, [and] to render judgment with integrity of heart.
“Though we may be perfect among mortals, if wisdom which comes from you is lacking, we count for nothing,” the reading continued.
Rodriguez read from chapter five of the Gospel of Matthew, from the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, offering blessings upon the poor, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who work for justice, and those who are persecuted for doing right.
White-Cain then delivered an invocation, the first time one of the religious leaders spoke in his or her own voice.
“We come to you, heavenly father, in the name of all those with grateful hearts thanking you for this great country,” she said. “We acknowledge that we are a blessed nation, with a rich history of faith.
“Every good and every perfect gift comes from you, and the United States of America is your gift for which we proclaim our gratitude,” White-Cain said.
“Bestow on our president the wisdom necessary to lead this nation, the wisdom to unify us, [and] the strength to stand for what is honorable and right in your eyes,” she said.
“Reveal unto our president the ability to know your will, the confidence to lead us in justice and righteousness, [and] the compassion to yield to our better angels.
“In every generation you have provided the strength and power to become that blessed nation,” she said. “Give us the strength to persevere and to thrive … and join us to your purposes.
“Let your favor be upon this one nation under God, let these United States of America be that one beacon of hope to all people … a true hope to all humankind.”
The choice of White-Cain had stirred some controversy prior to the inauguration ceremony, largely because she’s an exponent of the “prosperity gospel” movement within Christianity that believes God rewards fidelity with health, happiness and material success, meaning that being wealthy can be seen as a sign of God’s favor.
During his inaugural address, Trump made reference to the divine. After promising that Americans will be protected by the military and law enforcement, he added: “Most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
At another point, Trump said that all Americans are “infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”
Trump made another reference to religion in the address, vowing that radical Islamic terrorism “will be eradicated from the face of the earth.”
After Trump took the oath, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the only non-Christian to take part in the ceremony, offered a prayer.
“Bless President Donald J. Trump and America our great nation,” he said.
“The freedoms we enjoy are not granted in perpetuity, but must be reclaimed in each generation,” Hier said. “It’s not for us to complete the task, but neither are we free to dispense from it.
“A nation’s wealth is measured by her values, not by her vaults,” Hier said, adding, “Bless our allies around the world who share our beliefs.”
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, joked that “in the Bible rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” and speaking to Trump, “when you came to the platform, it started to rain.
“My prayer is that God will bless you, your family, and your administration, and that God will bless America,” Graham said, before offering a reading from the second chapter of the first letter of Timothy in the New Testament.
Finally, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International, the lone African-American to take part in the inauguration, thanked God “for letting us share this great moment together.
“Let us not take for granted the air we breathe nor the life you have given us,” Jackson said.
“We are not enemies, but brothers and sisters,” he said. “We are not foes, but friends.”
He then quoted the famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the song “We Shall Overcome”: “Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe … The Lord will see us through … Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe … We shall live in peace … Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe … We’re on to victory.”