It seems that President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have at least one thing in common: they've both aligned themselves with controversial pastors. Obama's picks to lead the prayer at both of his inaugurations caused outcry because of both pastors' anti-gay marriage stances, the second pick eventually backing out because of the backlash. And when Trump's inaugural committee announced who will be praying at the inauguration this year, they seemed to be continuing some strange tradition.
Trump has a total of six clergy members involved with the proceedings, which, as Christianity Today notes, is the biggest group since Ronald Reagan's. And it's a diverse set of spiritual leaders. As Religion News Service noted, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, will be the first Catholic bishop to take part in an inauguration in 40 years. Rabbi Marvin Hier will be the first Jewish clergy to be involved since Reagan's inauguration in 1985.
Hier and Dolan will be joined by Franklin Graham — son of famed Christian leader Billy Graham, and who also prayed at George W. Bush's 2001 swearing-in — and Hispanic evangelical preacher Samuel Rodriguez. But Trump's remaining two picks are the ones that are really raising eyebrows.
Florida-based televangelist Paula White and Bishop Wayne Jackson of Detroit round out Trump's prayer team. Both believe in the prosperity gospel, or the idea that God blesses his most faithful followers with material riches, so the more luxuries and money that someone has, the more that God has found favor with them. "Taken together, [Graham and White] have embodied Trump’s embrace of the twinned ideologies of Christian nationalism and capitalist Christianity,” Kevin Kruse, a history professor at Princeton University told Christianity Today.
White, in fact, was under Senate investigation in 2007 for questionable fundraising practices. White promised her followers that God would bless them if they donated "seed" money. After they received your "seed," they would send an important "Word of the Lord" through email or DVD. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who is ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, spent three years investigating White and other prosperity-gospel televangelists, but ultimately found no wrongdoing.
If White and Jackson believe that God blesses those who are rich, then it's no wonder why they would admire someone like Trump, who takes every opportunity to let everyone know that he's very rich. In that way, though it seems like a strange choice to have two pastors who subscribe to this small segment of the faith, it's a fitting move for the Trump inauguration.