If you had thirty minutes to say something to the most powerful man in the world, what would you say?
On Palm Sunday, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, tweeted that he would be tuning-in to religious services at Laurie’s Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. The following week, Trump said he would be watching Easter Sunday services at Jeffress’s First Baptist Church–Dallas. Finally, the Sunday following Easter, Trump said he would be watching Graham’s service at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.
Presidents have visited churches for a long time. In Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, I told the story of George Washington’s regular visits to Christ Church in Philadelphia. Rev. James Abercrombie, the assistant rector of the church, was not happy about the fact that the first president was in the habit of leaving Sunday services before Communion was served. Abercrombie decided to preach a sermon , with Washington present, against those in “elevated stations who uniformly turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” Washington apparently acknowledged the rebuke, but never again attended services at Christ Church on Sundays when Communion was served.
Today we do not have to rely on Abercrombie’s memory. In this age of the Internet and live-streaming, we get to watch the same service the president is watching and hear exactly what the preacher has to say to him.
Did Trump watch these services because he wanted to feed his soul during the Easter season? Perhaps. Did Trump want to show his support for his most loyal evangelical supporters during this time of coronavirus quarantining and social distancing? Probably. Did Trump want to “attend” these services to solidify his evangelical base as the November election approaches? Absolutely.
What did Trump hear during these services? Or more importantly for the series of posts I hope to write here over the next week, what did these ministers of the Gospel say to Trump? All three of these ministers had the chance to proclaim the message of Easter to the president. Though Trump has a short attention span, let’s just assume that he gave his full attention to these services. How does what these ministers said in the (virtual) presence of their special guest provide us with insight into the current state of American evangelicalism?