As the 2016 Republican National Convention, a.k.a. "The Trump Show", kicked off in Cleveland, it was centered by a "special" prayer from Pastor Mark Burns. Ordinarily, invocations are placid, pro-forma prayers which remind attendees of Divine Providence. But this is the Trump Show.
Pastor Burns was introduced as being from the Harvest Praise and Worship Center, but that's too modest of a pedigree. Burns is a televangelist is co-founder and CEO of Now Network, which brags that it has an audience of 11 million. Burns also is Creator, Executive Producer and Host of Lift Up Your Voice Gospel Show which allegedly has an audience of 45 million on the Impact Network, But Burns hasn't abandoned his home, as he also co-hosts with his wife Tomorra Burns "Rejoice TODAY" on the Dove Nework which reaches 2 million homes in Upstate South Carolina, Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia.
Well, the Trump Show promised that is was going to have star power and entertainment, so the choice of a televangelist for a benediction is not surprising. However, the content of Burns' polemic prayer deserves some discernment.
The prayer seems to elevate Donald Trump into an ascending super saint, which seems ironic considering Trump's ambivalent approach to religion. There are numerous examples in which Trump's biblical knowledge has been tested (e.g. his favorite book in the Bible), Trump's emphatic onomania that "I'm a Presbyterian" while he was slagging erstwhile Seventh Day Adventist enemy Dr. Ben Carson, as well as Trump's faux pas of mistaking communion with the collection plate in Iowa. But Burns blustered that Trump believes in Jesus Christ so God bless him.
What seemed remarkable was a prayer which cast Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party as the enemy. Put in a theological framework, they are the Devil incarnate. There is no rationale given as to why liberal's are not following an orthodox path for the polity, just that they are the enemy. Four years ago, the Catholic Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan gave an ecumenical benediction to the GOP which extolled the virtues of America( freedom and liberty), challenged the faithful to remember all Americans, and humbly asked God for guidance and protection of Governor Romney and Representative Ryan. It should be noted that Cardinal Dolan also gave the closing benediction at the 2012 Democrat Convention, in which he challenged those gathered about religious liberty and abortion as he prayed for those gathered.
The Pastor's prayer claims Trump as a conservative. It is best not to lie when approaching the Divine. Trump may have won the nomination, but it is deceitful to call an unprincipled populist like Trump a conservative. Such a perception may unjustly taint conservatism for a generation.
Burns' benediction prayed for unity among the GOP. But those prayers were not answered as Trump Convention Manager Paul Manafort soon after crushed a motion from the floor to vote on alternative party rules measures which were doomed to fail, but their voices were officially ignored via a rigged voice vote. This caused several delegations to walk out and enraged vocal party regulars like radio talk show host Mark Levin. Unity does not come from showing your cohorts the back of your hand, that may cause compliance but not melting a heart of stone.
Perhaps it is a difference in approach and theological grounding, but Pastor Burns commanded God to give Donald Trump authority to become President and defeat the enemy rather than beseeching Divine Providence for wisdom and humility to lead our Nation.
Despite Pastor Burns' benediction, hopes that the Trump Show will spur party unity needs more than hype and a prayer. Aside from ephemeral politics, this prayer epitomizes how so many born agains hopped on the Trump Train while regular church going evangelicals fret about a leader who publicly lacks humility, evokes values which seem counter to Christianity and seems to use his associations with faith communities rather than walking in faith on the campaign trail.