Why Did Trump Go to McLean Bible Church?

Platt Trump

As some of you know, yesterday Donald Trump made a short visit (some outlets are reporting 16-minutes) to McLean Bible Church, an evangelical megachurch in Vienna, Virginia.  David Platt, the pastor of the church, prayed for Trump.

Why did he go?

A White House spokesperson named Judd Deere said that Trump visited the church “to visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.”

Really?

I don’t know if McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt “visited” with Trump before he took the stage and prayed for the president.  As I understand it, Trump showed-up in the middle of the service.  The president did not make any public statement.  Platt’s prayer said nothing about Virginia Beach.

Trump actually came to McLean Bible Church to throw a bone to his evangelical base.  This was the day that Franklin Graham set aside to pray for the president.  I wrote about this here and here and contributed to this CNN report.

His visit had nothing to do with Virginia Beach.  I have no idea why Deere said that it was about the Virginia Beach shooting.  If he was honest, and simply said that Trump was there to honor Franklin Graham’s call for prayer, he probably would have scored more political points with the visit.  Or maybe Deere had no clue as to why Trump showed-up at McLean Bible Church.  He was covering the weekend the shift in the press shop, hear about the spontaneous visit, and simply offered the Virginia Beach explanation off the top of his head because it made sense.

One of the best things I have read on this comes from David Bains, a religion professor at Samford University.   He writes:

Yesterday afternoon was surely one of the odder moments in the history of presidential churchgoing. Returning from midday golf game at the Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County, Virginia, the President stopped at McLean Bible Church at 2:20 pm to appear in a regularly scheduled Sunday service that started at 1:00 pm. The church is about 11 miles from the golf course. He was at the church for fifteen minutes, and in the service for only a portion of that.

The White House said that the purpose of the visit was to visit with the church’s pastor, David Platt, and pray for victims of Friday’s deadly mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Yet, while Trump was in the church there were no public prayers for the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting. Rather, Platt seemed to understand that the visit was linked to the special national day of prayer for the president that Franklin Graham and others had declared. Given that the president was being criticized in the morning for not attending church on his day, it is reasonable to conclude as historian John Fea has that that was a key reason behind the president’s church visit.

While Platt is generally being praised for offering a prayer for the president and other leaders that was not an endorsement of Trump, the White House defined the meaning of the the event in the media. Most reports have stated that the purpose of the visit was to pray for the victims of Friday’s shooting, and the 170-some miles between the church and the location of the shooting is lost on those unfamiliar with Virginia.

Platt did not endorse Graham’s designation of June 2 as a “SPECIAL Day of Prayer for the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, that God would protect, strengthen, embolden, and direct him.” The extemporaneous prayer Platt offered while standing next to the President did not focus on the Graham’s key themes of protection and emboldening, nor did it speak of the president as being attacked. But the optic of the prayer, with the president looking weary and slightly disheveled while a young pastor prays with a hand on the president’s back and proving useful to those who wanted to see the president being prayed for in a church on this day.

Read the rest here.

In a later tweet, Bains stressed the fact that McLean Bible Church had a 1:00pm service:

Yup.

Perhaps it went down this way: Trump was on the golf course all morning and probably saw people on Twitter criticizing him for golfing while so many of his evangelical supporters were in church praying for him.  He and his staff did not like the optics, but it was too late in the day to find an evangelical service to attend.  Most evangelical congregations do not have afternoon services.

But wait!

McLean Bible Church in Vienna actually does have an afternoon service.  It starts at 1:00pm.  Jackpot!

If Trump and his crew hurried, they could get to Vienna before the service ended.  Trump showed up at 2:25pm. (Most evangelical services last anywhere between 60 and 75 minutes. Did McLean extend the service?)  But there was no time to comb his hair or take off his golf shoes.  The fact that the McLean pastor David Platt is not a court evangelical and did not sign Franklin Graham’s call for prayer was irrelevant by this point.

Finally, it is worth noting that some media outlets and popular tweeters simply took the White House at its word about the purpose of the visit and seemed to have no clue that this was all about Graham’s call for prayer and not about Virginia Beach.

ADDENDUM (June 3, 2019 at 9:12 PM):  According to commentator Kenny Brown (see his comment below), Mike Pence occasionally attends McLean Bible Church. Perhaps this also has something to do with how Trump ended up there.

19 thoughts on “Why Did Trump Go to McLean Bible Church?

  1. I will be interested to see how Platt now responds to all the publicity.

    So far, Platt seems to have handled the situation pretty well.

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  2. According to the reports, Platt handled the surprise visit very well and Trump seemed unusually quiet.

    And the Trumpster is well-known for shooting off his mouth (or Twitter finger) and taking center stage whenever he can.

    Platt’s account said he had a backstage private conversation with Trump before the public prayer, but did not go into detail. Wonder if that had anything to do with Trump’s demeanor?

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  3. I found it interesting that Trump seemingly stumbled across the growing rift among evangelicals between his (culturally) evangelical base and the studiously non-partisan (theological) gospel people.

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  4. For some Christians, the vice is power and access to Trump’s court. For others, the vice is good boardwalk custard of the orange cream variety. GUILTY!

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  5. John, you may recall: Cliff Sims mentions David Platt in his book Team of Vipers, which you covered on this site several months ago. You also provided part of an interview between Platt and Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today. Both that book and the interview claim that Paula White had vetoed an invitation to Platt to take part in a White House prayer service because he was “too controversial” and did not believe in the “American Dream” of prosperity. (See pages 191-194 in Team of Vipers.) Also the book (p. 184) indicates that the vice president and several White House staffers are regulars at McLean Bible Church. Those connections may also explain in part why Trump (or his staff) chose that church. Paula White is arguably the most influential, self-professed “evangelical” leader in Trump’s inner circle of religious advisors. If Sims is correct it seems Platt is not good enough for a White House gathering, but a convenient pastor for a photo-op. According to Sims, Platt had planned to turn down the earlier invitation to the White House anyway. I will be interested to see how Platt now responds to all the publicity.

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  6. What if you got all the Kohr Orange Cream Cones you could eat AND Trump made you Plenipotentiary Cone Czar allowing you to ban dipping them in chocolate? It’s becoming more tempting now, isn’t it?

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  7. Well then, John, here’s a thorny question for you. What would be your response if someone from the White House staff contacted you and asked you to take a year’s sabbatical from Messiah, come to D.C., and act as the president’s liaison to the evangelical community? Would the job appeal to you?

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  8. The WaPo has reported that Trump, like his muse, Al Czervik, was actually wearing white sneakers (manufactured in China by independent contractor child-laborers fired by Nike for insufficient productivity) on the golf course, in violation of all known club bylaws, the Rules of Golf and common decency.

    An anonymous caddie who worked both at Bushwood and Trump National in Bedminster before Trump had him deported for refusing to kick Trump’s ball back onto the fairway from the second cut, said that Trump wears the sneakers as a white nationalist dog whistle and only takes them off for church appearances if Melania is going too and nags him about it.

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  9. Yes. Most golfers do take their golf shoes off before the leave the country club. Perhaps this proves my point. There was no time to lose. The service was ending.

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  10. John,
    I just took a look at the earlier photo. Lo and behold, the white shoes do appear to be golfing shoes. I must be ignorant of the ways of golfers. I am no golfer but still a marathoner and getting changed is usually the second thing I want to do after coming through the finish chute. The first is rehydrating.

    James

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  11. So, let’s sum up John’s position on Trump as it relates to attending a prayer service:

    1. Trump ignores the whole [Day of Prayer] and keeps golfing (and gives himself 17 mulligans and signs a falsified score card, as WaPo, CNN and NYT field reporters embedded in various bunkers around course all breathlessly report): Trump is bad.

    2. Trump, allegedly stung by criticism of him on Twitter and social media pointing out he has eschewed church for a good walk spoiled, heads for the nearest fawning court Evangelical to have him pray for Trump’s defeat of his political enemies and for the Kingdom of MAGA to come: Trump is bad.

    3. Trump shows up at a nearby church relatively un-announced, is prayed for by Platt with no culture war rhetoric, no political messaging, and then leaves: Trump is bad.

    I do not think Trump is a Christian, I did not support Graham’s explicitly political day of prayer for Trump, I am pleased our church had nothing to do with it. Having said that, it is also clear that there is literally nothing Donald Trump could do which would be acceptable to John.

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