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With Trump at prayer service, clergy speak of compassion, diversity

U.S. President Donald Trump sings while accompanied by his wife, Melania, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, during a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral the morning after his inauguration, in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral/Danielle E. Thomas

WASHINGTON (RNS) President Donald Trump started his first full day as the nation’s new leader by attending a worship service where clergy spoke of human diversity and compassion.

Trump gave a thumbs-up to some supporters as he entered the Washington National Cathedral — an Episcopal church that traditionally hosts the post-inaugural National Prayer Service.

Trump, a Presbyterian, folded his arms at times and sat silently next to his wife for most of the 70-minute service, though he joined in some songs and in reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

There was no sermon by prior arrangement. However, Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington offered a welcome message.

“As we mark this moment of political transition, let us all draw strength and courage from the sacred texts, songs and petitions from the many traditions of our land,” she said. “May they inspire us always to seek divine assistance, care for one another and live according to the highest aspirations for all of us.”

While the program said that Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Virginia was to recite the Muslim call to prayer, he instead uttered two Quranic verses.

One was Surah al-Hujurat (49:13), which Magid read in Arabic and translated as “Oh humankind, we have created you from a single male and female, Adam and Eve, and made you into nations and tribes and communities, that you may know each other.”

“And among the signs of God is the creation of heaven and earth and the variation in your languages, and your colors,” he added, quoting from Surah ar-Rum (30:22).

Reading from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, the cathedral’s Dean Randy Hollerith spoke of harmony in his opening prayer:

“Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth.”

The clergy had entered the worship space in a colorful procession wearing robes, yarmulkes and clerical collars.

And prayers were mixed with patriotism as the congregation sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” the national anthem and “America the Beautiful.”

When Marlana VanHoose, a blind singer who has sung the national anthem at the NBA Finals, concluded her rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” some members of the audience gave her a standing ovation, followed by first lady Melania Trump, and then her husband.

People enter the Washington National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service on a foggy morning on Jan. 21, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

People enter the Washington National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service on a foggy morning on Jan. 21, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Sikh, Buddhist and Baha’i speakers prayed for the vulnerable, the unemployed, and refugees. Pastor Ramiro Pena, a Baptist minister from Waco, Texas, asked the congregation to pray the Lord’s Prayer, “each in our own language.”

More than half a dozen evangelical speakers were included, and some added Jesus’ name to the written text.

“May the power of God’s word be our source as well as our shield wherever we walk today,” former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said before reciting Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”). Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of Billy Graham, added “the prince of peace, the king of kings and the lord of lords” to her prayer for peace.

The 2017 National Prayer Service had been a subject of controversy similar to the political one that preceded Trump’s swearing-in at the Capitol. In dueling commentaries, the past and present deans of the neo-Gothic church disagreed about whether the church that calls itself “A House of Prayer for All People” should open its doors to the 45th president and have its choir sing at Friday’s inauguration ceremony.

“It is simply inappropriate to use a precious institution such as Washington National Cathedral to suggest that the church bestows its blessing on a leader so obviously beyond the pale of Christian thought,” the former cathedral dean, the Rev. Gary Hall, wrote in an RNS commentary. “We cannot use the words, symbols and images of our faith to provide a religious gloss to an autocrat.”

Hollerith, the current dean, responded on the cathedral’s website: “I believe our job is to work together to build a country where everyone feels welcome, everyone feels safe, everyone feels at home.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

41 Comments

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  • “Inspired by the Women’s March on Washington, more than a million women around the world are expected to hit the streets Saturday to show solidarity with Americans and to promote human rights and gender equality in their own countries.” — https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/worldwide-people-rally-in-support-of-womens-march-on-washington/2017/01/21/bc232bd8-de69-11e6-8902-610fe486791c_story.html?utm_term=.6ffa24eac0f2

    If I believed in God, I would pray my heart out right now that something wonderful for everyone on Earth might arise from the best in human hearts, which are being broken by so many events worldwide.

    I ask those who are religious, who share these concerns, whose spiritual boundaries deserve our empathetic respect, and who know that our existential boundaries deserve their respect — I ask those religious people to pray for that wonderful something to grow, and take root, and bear fruit to nourish our human hearts, which ache from our shared pain; and to provoke us to take action, to collaborate, and to show our own Earthly leaders how to better our own shared humanity on our own shared Earth.

    And I ask those of us who are not religious, who share these same concerns, who share the same regard for empathetic respect, and who share the same existential pain from current global events, to wholeheartedly wish for, aim for, and work toward these same shared hopes for our own shared futures.

  • The day that a “man of prayer” refuses to join in prayer with another, he is no longer a “man of prayer” and has lost his belief in the transformative power of prayer. He has become a creature of politics. Rev. Hall has in effect said; “if they knew what type of sinner that man is they would not be meeting with him”

    It is good that he is past dean of the cathedral, I hope they include him in then prayer intentions of the day.

  • They may call themselves “a house of prayer for all people, but they’re really only a church for all Christians. Every single Christian speaker mentioned Jesus as Lord in his/her speech. I don’t understand why they could not just address God.

  • So you say, “If I believed in God, I would pray my heart out right now that something wonderful for everyone on Earth might arise from the best in human hearts, which are being broken by so many events worldwide.”

    A beautiful, heartfelt, earnest sentiment, G. Totally no joke. But you know what? The last 32 words of your statement are trapped and imprisoned by the first five words.
    You see that? Words can’t fly when they’re in a cage. Your atheism is a painful & poignant jail.

    You’d like to release that heartfelt prayer to somebody, you’d like to get a real answer on it. But you can’t, because you’re stuck in the slammer. (Without bail, I might add.) Plus you got NO confidence that your prayer would be answered anyway. You can’t even specify exactly what this planet-wide “something wonderful” is, (because if you do you’ll carry the conversation into areas that will oppose your atheism).

    For example, you can only see your planet-wide “something wonderful” arising from “the best in human hearts”, and nowhere else. Yet if today’s media headlines (not to mention World History 101) are any guide, “the best in human hearts” ain’t worth squat in terms of accomplishing this big planet-wide miracle.
    So your entire heartfelt plea is DOA, Dead On Arrival. Unless….

  • Very presumptuous & offensive of Evangelical clergyman, Jack Graham – isn’t it? – to claim that one & all fellow Americans – be they my atheistic or agnostic or Hindu friends – “remain ‘One Nation Under God’ (who) as a people lean upon the same faith in God that has given us purpose and strength for over two-and-a-half centuries.” (Jack Graham, Prestonwood Baptist Church, January 2017)

  • I would not feel comfortable in an environment where unrepentant evil people feel safe and comfortable.

  • The bottom line for all but the most liberal, at least in the Abrahamic religions, is the core belief, supported by scripture, is that ultimately “they” possess the truth and are the only way and the other guys are wrong. I believe that nowhere in the books is interfaith encouraged and is likely forbidden.

  • G Key is not trapped in a cage. Those who are blinded to think that they alone have the answers because they’ve only heard and repeated the words fed to them and never pondered them long and hard have most unique blinders.

  • Nope. A badly translated, highly edited, and fairly political book 2000 years old, wherein lay a host of contradictions, barbarities, silliness, improbabiltiies, and falsities, and believed by a lot of people to represent the Very Word of an Omnipotent and Omniscient Deity to all of mankind for all time and in every circumstance.

  • Well, doc, because we keep having to waste time and energy on religious fanatics, don’t we?

    Spain after the discovery of the new world– well its exploitation and genocide against its then current owner– became fabulously wealthy. Do you know what they used to money for? (Hint: it wasn’t for the betterment and education of the people, or building industry or anything useful).

    Armies to use against their fellow Christians and a lot of really swell churches and cathedrals. When Spain lost its Colonies 200 years ago, they became the “house with cars on blocks on the front lawn” of Europe.

  • Well, that’s just the blatant hypocrisy and glaring blindness, isn’t it, though?  If these so-full-of-themselves Evangelical clerics’ “core belief” is telling them that “‘they’ possess the truth and are the only way and the other guys are wrong” – why in God’s name are they now practising “interfaith” with them?  It can’t just be the religious beer or wine or spirits in them doing the talking.  It’s much worse, I’m afraid.  I think they’ve all been whoring after the gods of the Christian Right for so long (since Richard Nixon & Billy Graham’s electoral campaigns in the southern states in the early 1950s?) that even this historical truth either has escaped them or has them exploiting it, that, back to topic:

    “The phrase ‘under God’ … incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954 … (1) violates … the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment … (2) (is) an unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism … (3) (uses) words (that are) of a ‘ceremonial and patriotic nature’ … (and) represent(s) a patriotic, not a religious, exercise” (Wikipedia, last edited 13 December 2016); (4) “was promoted in the 1930s and ’40s when industrialists and business lobbies, chafing against the government regulations of the New Deal, recruited and funded conservative clergy to preach faith, freedom and free enterprise” (NPR, March 30, 2015); and (5) “was connected to a desire to denigrate most of these people (‘agnostics, atheists, Reform Jewish Spinozists, Deists, Unitarians, and others’), as fellow travelers with ‘atheistic communism'” (University of Chicago Law School, The Record, Alumni Magazine, Fall 2008)

    What say you, Jim?

  • “It is simply inappropriate to use a precious institution such as Washington National Cathedral to suggest that the church bestows its blessing on a leader so obviously beyond the pale of Christian thought”

    Are not Christian churches the perfect places for sinners? The more blessings bestowed, the more healing grace is poured out by God. We may judge the actions of man as sinful per our faith, but we are incapable of judging a man’s soul. Only God knows what lies there. How can anyone be declared “beyond the pale of Christian thought” by man? How many souls did God bring out of their wickedness in the Old and the New Testaments? While we remain earthbound, no one is beyond God’s merciful and saving grace!

    I will continue to pray for our new president, not because I have faith in him, but because I have faith in God.

  • Regarding your opening statement, “A beautiful, heartfelt, earnest sentiment, G. Totally no joke.” — That means a lot to me, floydlee. I deeply appreciate your choice to begin your response with singular understanding and empathy.

    The remainder of your reply boldly delineates the unshakeable differences in our beliefs, and, more importantly (to me, anyway), the irreconcilable opposition of some of our respectively most basic and most cherished values.

    In a manner of speaking, we — everyone on Earth — are indeed each trapped in our own countless cages, for better and for worse, both rightly and wrongly: cages of our beliefs and values; our moral codes of conduct, what we compel or forbid ourselves to do or to dwell upon; the internal conflicts between our aspirations and our behaviors; how we present ourselves to others (and, for some, even to Whom we worship) vis-à-vis how we secretly or subconsciously realize we truly are; how we view and rank ourselves and our beliefs vis-à-vis others and their beliefs; our decisions to champion and/or practice equality or inequality, respect or trespass, compassion or cruelty, humility or hubris, collaboration or competition, open-mindedness or cold-heartedness, coexistence or conquest, invitation or invasion, right-makes-might or might-makes-right,…

    We are also each trapped in countless cages that others have fashioned for us, also for better and for worse, both rightly and wrongly: cages of law and order; of sociocultural expectations and taboos; of economic status and obligations… — not to mention others’ constructs of our own cages, including many which conflict with ours, sometimes oppressively so.

    Regarding your presumption, “You can’t even specify exactly what this planet-wide ‘something wonderful’ is, (because if you do you’ll carry the conversation into areas that will oppose your atheism).” — On the contrary, my definition of “something wonderful” permeates not only the remainder of my comment, but also the content and context of this article: the birth of a historically defining movement focused on respecting each other and our personal boundaries, personal lives, and personally binding beliefs; on standing up together against injustice, divisiveness, bullying, and the leaders (political and otherwise) who have led to the global events that cause us such shared pain; on supporting each others’ rights and equality; on opposing cultural, spiritual, and political traditions that teach “Us” to subordinate “Them”; on getting to know each other in order to understand each other’s needs, discover our commonalities, and work together to find and implement enduring win-win solutions; and on confronting those who make up stories about strangers and dismiss them accordingly — e.g., “You can’t even specify exactly what this planet-wide ‘something wonderful’ is, (because if you do you’ll carry the conversation into areas that will oppose your atheism)”.

    Regarding your other presumptions — most notably “Your atheism is a painful & poignant jail” and “You’d like to release that heartfelt prayer to somebody, you’d like to get a real answer on it. But you can’t, because you’re stuck in the slammer. (Without bail, I might add.)” — your assertions would instantly change from presumptuous to credible if you merely prefaced them with “I believe”. Alternatively, you could simply ask me what I experience as an atheist. That way, you could not only make informed statements about this stranger; you could also learn about me, and then compare what you learned to what you previously believed. For example…
    — You could learn that I experience atheism not as “a painful & poignant jail”, but as an affirmation of life: I believe we’re all we’ve got, and that alone makes us valuable.
    — You could discover that I believe one’s spiritual/existential beliefs magnify whatever is in the human heart. And then, if you were so inclined, you could evaluate the merits of that notion for yourself.
    — You could find out that I believe each of us leaves behind what we have done in our lives and with our lives, for better and/or for worse, alone and/or with others; and that because of this, I believe each of us matter: our legacies will persist beyond our lives.

    Personally, I believe that, should a religious “Armageddon” ever occur, it will be a war not between These-Believers and Those-Believers, but between Respecters and Trespassers. And if such an apocalyptic event occurs in our lifetimes, you will find me defending any Respecters, regardless of their beliefs, against all Trespassers, regardless of their beliefs.

  • Well, that’s disappointing. Or is it because you’re an atheist that you really don’t know what I’m on-topic talking about, re: the “one nation under God” clause that Jack Graham exploited like a gold mine for his Religious Right cause? Try again, please, for I value your opinion.

  • Better than the as reported Rev. Jeffress sermon (Friday morning private service) on building walls.

  • “The day that a “man of prayer” refuses to join in prayer with another, he is no longer a “man of prayer” and has lost his belief in the transformative power of prayer. He has become a creature of politics.”

    Your ignorance is showing. I mean, besides your magical thinking about prayer, that is. This was a political event, a fact that underlines your poor understanding of Luke 7:39. Nothing in that story is analogous to the prayer service. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Especially not between the unnamed woman and any of the elected officials. As if Hall’s objection was only about Trump’s *personal* faith, or complete lackthereof. And not the heart of his political agenda and policy plans, which are so opposed to any notion of the “common good” that the Church simply has no common ground on which to approach the current administration.

  • “I will continue to pray for our new president, not because I have faith in him, but because I have faith in God.”

    If you pray for anything other than his immediate and complete repentance–and by that I mean his complete and unequivocal rejection of all of his past rhetoric and future policy goals–you are doing it wrong.

  • I must remind the Rev. Gary Hall concerning that what you feel is beyond the pale of Christian thought of something found in the word of God “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2

  • It was a prayer service, reported on by Religion News Service. You can cynically decide it was only a political exercise, which proves my point, thank you. The Rev. Hall, a supposed man of prayer no longer believes in this “magical thinking” and is instead a political creature like yourself.

  • Sinners are not supposed to be LEADING the services. That is the problem. But the Episcopal Church has trashed the Prayer Book and Holy Bible. The former is unrecognizable and the last is unused except for a few “love” scriptures now and then.

  • Yes, they do. I have plenty of news stories over the years that document it. When you throw out the Holy Bible, anything goes.

  • You miss the point, on purpose, gathering from your past posts. The Gospel of Jesus Christ preached should make unrepentant evil people anything but comfortable. They should see the ultimate end of their sin and think about repenting of that sin.

  • Sorry, it actually does not. The Establishment Clause was designed to prevent a Church of England in America, not to forbid any mention of Christianity by political entities. For example, in my Scandinavian countries, the Lutheran Church is supported directly by tax dollars. You might also know that there is a chaplain for the US Senate and one for the House of Representatives.

  • So you live in a cave. Its the only explanation for being completely isolated from anyone who sins and is not sufficiently repentant to your standards.

    Attacking people and trespassing upon their lives because of your opinions as to their sinfulness is precisely the kind of nonsense which cannot be justified by the teachings of Christianity. Even though that is your excuse for bad behavior to others. After all, to do so you must act without reflection of your own sins while passing judgment on others which rightfully belongs to God and God alone.

  • It was a prayer service to grant religious sanction to the state and to the current administration of the state. Poor souls like you can’t even be honest about that apparently. No wonder you couldn’t respond to the real heart of my comment, which was about both your poor exegesis and your even poorer grasp of why Hall or anyone else what object to Trump.

  • Manifestly untrue. You are usually sharper than this. Don’t kneel in the gutter of slanders with The Dove. He’s a jackass.

  • If you can’t tell the difference between what that passage is saying and what the inaugural prayer service was doing, you really shouldn’t be commenting on either one.

  • There is little doubt about what we are commanded to do by our Lord in the scriptures and there is little doubt about what the service was, a prayer service that followed the peaceful transition of power of our nation. It is meet and also a most opportune time to offer prayer to God for our leaders and those appointed over us that we may all live peaceable lives.

  • “Little doubt.” Your smug certainty is a sin, you know. Hubris, pride, etc. Call it what you will, but you make it worse when you blind yourself from your own sinfulness by confusing your stubborn arrogance with true and faithful conviction. But that’s your problem, not mine.

    Here’s a question, though, my overconfident and self-righteous friend. If our Lord commanded early Christians to pray and give thanks for the Roman Emperor in 1 Timothy 2, then what do you say about the fact that our Lord also called the Roman Emperor a demonic beast who is wrongly prayed to and worshiped in Revelation 13?

  • Because there is a world of difference between praying for and praying to in worship. In 1Timothy we are commanded to pray for and the thanks we give is given to God for his provision. We give thanks for God’s provision of government and laws that protect from lawlessness (Romans 13:1-7). Revelation 13 the beast is given worship which is idolatry. In Matthew Jesus tells us to love our enemies and that can be tied into Paul’s exhortation to pray for our leaders though they may be as unrepentant as they are unregenerate. Praying for our leaders is simply praying that God will work through them though their desires may be evil God will bring it to good (Gen 50:20) and especially that the Holy Spirit will move within them for their ultimate salvation. This is not a new thing to pray for those who’s decisions may impact us, which is why we pray that we may live quiet, peaceful lives (1Timothy 2:2). Finally, as to the first paragraph of your latest response I suppose that when argument fails there’s always ad hominem.

  • I’d be praying “wrong?” While I do get specific to a certain degree in prayer, e.g. requesting a sick friend’s return to health, I don’t tell God how to go about His “work.” I trust He will do what is best in a way that is best because He sees the bigger picture.

  • I would not join with you in prayer unless we both held the same faith. I do not pray to a Jewish god, a Muslim god, a Buddish god, or an American Indian god.

    My faith is very important to me.

  • How can Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other religions worship together? They can’t unless they defy and reject their own God.

  • Red Baron HpO • 5 days ago

    One side claims it does, the other side, like you said Red Baron, “it actually does not.” Above I point that out, too, that US courts have ruled that the “one nation under God” clause lawfully incorporates “words (that are) of a ‘ceremonial and patriotic nature’ … (and) represent(s) a patriotic, not a religious, exercise” (Wikipedia, last edited 13 December 2016). Either way, though, Red Baron, Jack Graham knows both sides of the argument. And yet – and this is the Evangelical hypocrisy and deception – he still exploits this constitutional ambiguity to suit his Religious Right causes by insisting that the socio-historically derived “one nation under God” clause can still be said to be based upon the Bible. He wants it both ways, kind of like serving God and wealth (mammon) at the same time, thus disobeying a direct commandment from none other than Jesus Himself, Whom Graham professes to trust and obey!

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