Government & Politics News

A pastor’s encounter with the ‘demonic’ at Trump’s Florida rally

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump acknowledge supporters during the "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Fla., on Feb. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

(RNS) The vitriol of the president’s supporters at a Trump rally has moved a Florida pastor to write a much-shared Facebook post about the mockery of religion he believed he witnessed.

“I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable,” wrote the Rev. Joel Tooley, lead pastor of Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene.

The pastor said he felt the “power of the Holy Spirit of God” protecting him and his daughter as he sought to shield protesters from angry Trump fans.

Tooley had brought his 11-year-old to the rally Saturday (Feb. 18) in Melbourne, he wrote, in hopes of exposing her to some of the grandeur of the presidency, despite his own distaste for Trump’s politics.

Joel Tooley, lead pastor of Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene, talks to CNN about his experience at the rally

It began to go badly for Tooley very quickly, when first lady Melania Trump read the Lord’s Prayer to the crowd.

COUNTERPOINT: Let the first lady pray! (COMMENTARY)

“I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative,” Tooley wrote in the post, published on the day of the rally and since shared more than 14,600 times

“People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, ‘be the glory forever and ever, amen!’ As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, ‘USA! USA! USA!'”

Many experienced the rally far differently than Tooley, as tweets and other Facebook accounts attest.

But Tooley’s post has gained notice for its detailed descriptions of the crowd’s raw emotion and the willingness of some to rough up protesters — and, perhaps, because it was written by a man who ministers to evangelical Christians, the religious group that supported Trump more strongly than any other in the presidential election.

Tooley recoiled as Trump’s words whipped up his supporters. The pastor wrote that while he is often disappointed by American journalism, Trump’s opening lines to the crowd, “badgering and criticizing the media” were like that of “a bully inciting a crowd.” The crowd responded, Tooley recounted, “by screaming angrily at the press corps that was present.”

More disturbing to Tooley were several Trump supporters’ reactions to two women protesting at the rally, who were chanting: “T-R- … U-M-P; that’s how you spell — bigotry!”

The “people around them became violently enraged,” Tooley wrote, with one man grabbing one of the chanter’s arms and shouting: “I’m going to take you out! This is my president and no one has the right to disrespect him and no one has the right to keep me from hearing him!”

Two women who were part of the “angry mob” shook their middle fingers in Tooley’s face and cursed him when he tried to protect the protesters.

The pastor described his 11-year-old daughter clinging to him in fear: ” … she had seen some of the worst of humanity.”

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)