The top pastor of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is under fire for delivering what is being called the most partisan convention prayer in modern history, referring to Democrats as “the enemy” and calling on God to “defeat” Hillary Clinton and her party while speaking at the Republican National Convention.
On Monday night, South Carolina pastor Rev. Mark Burns took the stage to deliver the benediction for the convention’s first afternoon session. Although a relatively unknown Trump campaign surrogate, his scheduled prayer had created some buzz: Burns is a preacher of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” a deeply capitalist — and highly controversial — form of Christianity that has traditionally championed money and wealth but shied away from politics.
Last night, however, Burns shattered any misconception that prosperity preachers cannot be political. Instead, he delivered a prayer that unapologetically asked God to side with Republicans over Democrats, a move that sharply broke from the long legacy of relatively non-partisan prayers at conventions.
Check out a video and transcript of his controversial remarks is below:
Hello Republicans! I’m Pastor Mark Burns from the great state of South Carolina! I’m going to pray and I’m going to give the benediction. And you know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald rump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ. And Republicans, we got to be united because our enemy is not other Republicans — but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Let’s pray together. Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, the you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.
To defeat every attack that comes against us, to protect the life of Donald Trump, give him the words, give him the space, give him the power and the authority to be the next President of the United States of America, in Jesus’ name — if you believe it, shout Amen!
I have rarely heard a more inappropriate contribution to political proceedings as the benediction by Pastor Mark Burns at the opening session of the Republican National Convention.
Even before he finished, Burns’ prayer sparked fierce criticism on social media from liberal and conservative Christians alike. Yahoo News senior editor and storied religion reporter Amy Sullivan called it “the most explicitly partisan prayer heard at a major party convention in modern times.” Eric Teetsel, former faith outreach director for Marco Rubio’s campaign, tweeted that it was “shameful,” saying it was “a disgusting and disturbing misuse of God’s name and lies.” And the Interfaith Alliance, a group that “celebrates religious freedom,” released a sharply worded statement condemning the prayer.
“I have rarely heard a more inappropriate contribution to political proceedings as the benediction by Pastor Mark Burns at the opening session of the Republican National Convention,” Interfaith Alliance President Rabbi Jack Moline said. “The idea that a member of the clergy would invoke his God’s name and, in the next breath, declare the candidate from the other party to be the enemy seems to be an attempt to replace ‘nomination’ with ‘ordination.’ However, invoking religion to launch such attacks devalues faith and disrespects the people of the United States who are hoping for a debate on the issues, not an ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncement. Republican delegates should decline to respond ‘amen.’”
— Sarah Rumpf (@rumpfshaker) July 18, 2016
— Morgan Guyton (@MAGuyton) July 19, 2016
Convention prayers are, of course, nothing new. Party conventions were once held in churches, and priests, rabbis, imams, and pastors have been delivering invocations for both Republicans and Democrats for centuries. They are at least somewhat political because of where they are delivered — a gathering for a political party.
But while the locations of such prayers are inherently politically charged, their content usually only gestures towards partisan ideas, with even the most politically active priests and pastors only appealing to higher ideals when speaking to party delegates. For example, when Sister Simone Campbell, a Catholic nun and activist, was asked to address the Democratic National Convention in 2012, she threatened to pull out when her aids reworked her speech in a way that felt “too political.” Meanwhile, famous evangelist Billy Graham and Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan — both of whom lean politically conservative — have been honored with requests to speak at both party conventions in the same year, delivering respectful, generally non-partisan orisons to respective parties.
Burns’ prayer was seemingly unburdened by concerns about partisanship, however, invoking God’s name while calling on victory for one party — Republicans — and demonizing Democrats. The move crosses traditional political and theological lines, or, as one New Orleans campus ministry director put it: “[Burns’ prayer] is the clearest example I’ve yet seen of what the Bible refers to as taking the Lord’s name in vain.”