Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

By Religion News Service with BJC Staff Reports

Donald J. Trump placed his hand on two Bibles and took the oath of office in a swearing-in ceremony that featured prayers and pronouncements of God’s favor by the largest assortment of clergy in inaugural history.

It also drew protests around the nation’s capital.

A crowd along the National Mall watched the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to the new president in front of the Capitol. Trump chose two Bibles for the occasion — a family Bible and the Lincoln Bible, which also had been Barack Obama’s choice.

And he followed it with an inaugural address that drew cheers from the crowd for promises the United States would unite the world to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” and “most importantly … be protected by God.”

“These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public,” Trump said.

He briefly quoted Scripture, drawing on Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” And, he added, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

The ceremony began with Scripture readings and an invocation by prosperity gospel preacher Paula White, the first clergywoman ever to fill that role. Other religious figures offering prayer and readings during the one-hour ceremony included the Rev. Franklin Graham, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

White, Graham, Jackson and Rodriguez all made their comments “in Jesus’ name.” In 2008, Pastor Rick Warren caused controversy by including the phrase in his invocation at Obama’s inauguration.

Graham, who has said God allowed Trump to win the presidential election, made brief remarks before reading from 1 Timothy 2. He pointed out that a rain shower fell just as the new president began his inaugural address.

“In the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” he said.

The rain forced many in the crowd to cover themselves with plastic ponchos, since umbrellas were not permitted for security reasons.

Rodriguez read from Chapter 5 in the Gospel of Matthew, including the Beatitudes and the “city on a hill” passage so central to America’s founding ideal and so popular in U.S. politics.

And instead of the more traditional translation of the opening of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Rodriguez used a different take from the New Living Translation of the Bible: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.”

He told Religion News Service afterward that his use of the translation was intentional. “I want to heal. I want to reconcile. I want to bring good news to the suffering.”

Trump, who identifies as Presbyterian, also seemed to allude to the “city on a hill” imagery famously used by a 17th century Puritan New Englander, John Winthrop, and by the late President Ronald Reagan.

The Republican was elected with strong conservative Christian support. And he’s taking the reins of a government with a cast of high-level appointees, many of whom share religious views.

“Some of my conservative friends and I, we have been pinching ourselves,” Richard Land, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said according to Baptist News Global.

“Are we hallucinating, or is this actually happening?”

Land, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said he was consulted five times for personnel recommendations.

In recent weeks, the Senate has held confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet picks. They include an education secretary who supports school vouchers to get more children into private religious schools, a climate-change denier and a national security adviser who called Islam “a political ideology hiding behind a religion.”

Conservative Christian leaders have made no secret of their expectation that President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who describes himself as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” will reward their votes with legislation to defund abortion providers and by judicial appointments with a record of anti-abortion views.

White evangelicals voted for Trump in record numbers — 81 percent cast their ballot for him — and some of them were among the early arrivals on the National Mall to reinforce their support even as they recognized Trump’s personal shortcomings.

Roger Willis, a warehouse worker from Riverdale, Maryland, identifies as a Christian but said his faith “really didn’t have anything to do with my vote.”

Willis does believe that “God put everybody where they need to be. There’s a reason Donald Trump is president. God knows what he is going to do,” he added, meaning it as a statement of fact rather than concern.

From the January/February 2017 edition of Report from the Capital. You can also read the digital version of the magazine or view it as a PDF.