Donald Trump's Inauguration Prayer Leader Choices Show His Values The clergy speaking at Donald Trump's inauguration have mostly non-mainstream theological or political positions. No Muslim or mainline Protestant will speak, but the prosperity gospel will be heard.
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With His Choice Of Inauguration Prayer Leaders, Trump Shows His Values

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With His Choice Of Inauguration Prayer Leaders, Trump Shows His Values

With His Choice Of Inauguration Prayer Leaders, Trump Shows His Values

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One week from today, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. We're going to take a look now at one group who will play a feature role during his swearing-in ceremony. The six members of the clergy will offer prayers and readings that day for him and for the country. NPR's religion correspondent, Tom Gjelten, says Mr. Trump's choice of these particular six faith leaders may offer hints about the president-elect's own values and beliefs. And Tom is in the studio to talk with us about that. Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: Six is a lot - right? - traditionally for an inauguration?

GJELTEN: Yeah. We've usually seen three or four at the most. This time we'll have five Christian leaders and a rabbi.

MARTIN: No Muslim.

GJELTEN: No, but that's not unusual at a swearing-in.

MARTIN: All right. So let's go through these people. Who are they?

GJELTEN: First, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Detroit. He's a prominent African-American minister, leads a big church conglomerate there with a television network. He played an important role in the presidential campaign. Remember, he's the minister who invited Donald Trump to his church, one of the very few black churches that Trump visited.


WAYNE T JACKSON: Mr. Trump, will you come, and would you stand? Would you stand, Mr. Trump?


DONALD TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much.

GJELTEN: So now, as president-elect, Trump has invited Bishop Jackson to pray at his swearing-in next week, returning the favor. But there is something else. Jackson is a very wealthy preacher, lives in a multimillion-dollar mansion, drives luxury cars and famously preaches that wealth is not a bad thing, that Donald Trump's wealth is a sign he's been blessed by God.

MARTIN: This is the prosperity gospel, right? - like, the idea that if you pray hard enough, you'll be rewarded or that your wealth is a sign that you have been blessed.

GJELTEN: Right. And that brings us to a second faith leader who will be at Trump's inauguration, Paula White from the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida. She's perhaps the best-known example of a prosperity preacher. Listen here to part of one of her sermons, where she talks about how what you have in life is what God has given you.


PAULA WHITE: You're either in a position of abundance or you're in a position of poverty. Now, that's every area of your life. That's not just financially.

GJELTEN: Now, if you're wealthy like Donald Trump is, and you have a preacher who says your wealth is a sign God approves of you, you're probably going to like that preacher. And if there is one major element in Donald Trump's religious beliefs, it would be this prosperity gospel. Paula White has her critics among other evangelical leaders. But Trump has called her his spiritual adviser. And she endorsed his candidacy.

MARTIN: OK. So then we have Franklin Graham, a name that will be familiar to a lot of people, the son of Billy Graham, who himself prayed at several presidential inaugurations.

GJELTEN: Several, beginning with Richard Nixon on up through Bill Clinton. And Franklin himself prayed at the inauguration of George W. Bush. So his appearance here is hardly unprecedented. But he has something in common with Paula White. He, too, was a big supporter of Donald Trump during the campaign. Listen to what he said just last week about Trump's election in an interview with Lou Dobbs on the Fox Business Network.


FRANKLIN GRAHAM: Everybody predicted that he was going to lose. And I just think it was the hand of God. I think God intervened and put his hand on Donald Trump for some reason. It's obvious that there was something behind this. And it was more than people understand. And I just think it was God.

MARTIN: Divine intervention is tough to argue with.

GJELTEN: Boy, you can't ask for a better endorsement than that. And, politically, Franklin Graham stands with Donald Trump on a number of issues. Trump, during his campaign, focused a lot of attention on what he said was the threat from radical Islam. And that's a theme Franklin Graham has hit over and over.

MARTIN: All right. You said there was going to be a rabbi there. What can you tell us about him?

GJELTEN: Right. Rabbi Marvin Hier, president of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles - the first rabbi to take part in a presidential swearing-in since 1985.


MARVIN HIER: I'm delivering a prayer. I will hit modern themes. It'll be a short prayer. But it will reflect on the 21st century.

GJELTEN: That's a clip from a TV interview on Fox News. And one other point here - Rabbi Hier has ties to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law now set to be a close White House adviser. Kushner's parents and Rabbi Hier and his wife are old friends.

MARTIN: Kushner is Jewish himself. And Ivanka Trump has converted.

GJELTEN: Indeed.

MARTIN: So we have two more to go through. First, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez - what can you tell us about him?

GJELTEN: Well, Rev. Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. And, you know, Hispanics are the fastest-growing evangelical group in the country right now, an important constituency. But Trump's views, especially his views on immigration, did not exactly go over well with this faith constituency. Rev. Rodriguez told me that Trump's invitation created something of a stir in his world.

SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ: Of course, there was a bit of angst due to the fact that, throughout the course of his campaign, the rhetoric and the tone as it pertains to, particularly, the immigrant community did not line up with the ethos or the values of the NHCLC.

GJELTEN: Remember, that's his church group. But Rodriguez told me, in the end, he could not pass up the opportunity to pray on what he called the quintessential political platform on the planet. But there's more to this invitation. Rev. Rodriguez is one of the more conservative faith leaders in the Hispanic world. And while he did not endorse Trump, he told me he's heard a change of tone from Trump in the last few weeks and now has high hopes for better relations between Hispanics and the Trump administration.

RODRIGUEZ: Thirty percent of Latinos voted for Donald Trump. There's a great possibility that the president-elect and his team have come to the realization that this constituency can be engaged successfully.

MARTIN: All right. So we've got one more faith leader to be introduced to. Cardinal Timothy Dolan doesn't need an introduction to many because he's the archbishop of New York, a prominent Catholic.

GJELTEN: And, Rachel, in many ways, the least surprising of these faith leaders. President after president has asked a prominent Catholic bishop or theologian to do an inauguration prayer. And being New Yorkers, Cardinal Dolan and Donald Trump have known each other a long time.

MARTIN: All right. Looking across the scope here, these six faith leaders - what can we learn, if anything, about Donald Trump, his philosophy, the way he sees the world? Can we draw any conclusions?

GJELTEN: I'd say two big points, Rachel. With the exception of Cardinal Dolan, these are somewhat unorthodox choices starting with the prosperity preachers. There's no representative here of mainline Protestantism. And being out of the mainstream is entirely consistent with the way Donald Trump is approaching his presidency. The other thing is these choices reflect the importance he puts on loyalty. He's rewarding people who have supported him politically or endorsed his views or even offered a religious approval of his great wealth, a reminder that Donald Trump seems to prefer people he sees as being on his side.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Gjelten - he covers religion for us. Tom, thanks so much.

GJELTEN: Of course.

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