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The role religion played in Trump's inauguration

Posted January 21

Donald Trump was sworn in Friday as the 45th president of the United States during a day of ceremony and services where faith played prominently.

Church choirs sang, a half-dozen religious leaders prayed and Trump mentioned God in his inauguration speech.

"There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God," he said.

Trump's religiously rich ceremony was notable for a president whose personal faith wasn't a prominent part of his campaign. He formed a powerful partnership with evangelical Christian leaders and promised to make it safe to say "Merry Christmas," but he sometimes stumbled when asked to share his own beliefs.

"Like many Americans, Trump has a variety of ties to organized religion, but it doesn't define him, and he's not well-versed in beliefs and practices," the Deseret News reported in September.

Here's an overview of the role religion played in Inauguration Day:

The music

Two prominent religious singing groups performed on Inauguration Day. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, accompanied by the United States Marine Band, sang "America the Beautiful." The Washington National Cathedral Choir of Men, Boys and Girls sang "God Bless America."

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed at five previous inaugurations for both Democratic and Republican presidents, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still faced criticism for agreeing to send the group to Friday's celebration.

Similarly, Episcopal Church leaders were asked to address the decision to send the National Cathedral choir to the ceremony after church members shared their frustration in articles and social media posts.

"The Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said that while she recognizes people's criticism, she sees the choir's participation as a way to honor the peaceful transition of power and to signal that 'God is still with us, the nation is still strong,'" The Washington Post reported.

Who prayed

Trump invited six faith leaders to take part in Friday's swearing-in ceremony, surpassing the standard set by the last few presidents. "The last seven presidential inaugurations, since the elder Bush's in 1989, have had one or two members of the clergy offering prayers and readings," Pew Research Center reported.

Trump's choices stand out for their diversity, Religion News Service reported.

"They are friends and friendly critics, political outsiders and usual suspects; among them, the first clergywoman, the first Hispanic evangelical Christian and the first prosperity gospel preachers to speak at a presidential inauguration," the article noted. None of the six was Presbyterian, Trump's denomination.

The first three speakers, a Catholic and two evangelical Christians, shared biblical passages and an opening prayer.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, read the prayer of King Solomon from the ninth chapter of the Book of Wisdom. The passage is a plea for God's help in becoming a wise and strong leader.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, senior pastor at New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California, and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke next, reciting the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.

Pastor Paula White, a televangelist and pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, wrapped up the opening religious interlude, praying for God's blessings on Trump and the United States of America.

Be with Trump and "bestow (on him) the wisdom necessary to lead this great nation, the grace to unify us and the strength to stand for what is honorable and right in your sight," said White, who is also chairwoman of Trump's evangelical advisory board.

The second group of religious leaders took the stage after Trump's speech.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, offered blessings for the new president and asked for God's guidance in keeping the country focused on righteous work. He was the first rabbi since 1985 to speak during an inauguration ceremony.

Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, read from 1 Timothy 2 after commenting that the rain during Trump's speech is a sign of God's blessing.

Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, a prosperity gospel preacher and leader of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit, Michigan, shared the final benediction.

"May the Lord bless and keep America … and give us peace," he said.

The swearing-in

Trump ended his oath of office with "so help me God," joining a tradition that isn't required by law.

"This reference to God is not mentioned in the Constitution," Pew reported. "Chester A. Arthur, in 1881, is the first president on record to have uttered 'so help me God' at the end of the oath, although earlier presidents' inaugural addresses did refer to God and heaven."

Trump was sworn in with two Bibles, the Lincoln Bible and his family Bible, The Tennessean reported.

"The Lincoln Bible, used during the 16th president's first inauguration, was most recently a part of President Barack Obama's first and second inauguration ceremonies and is a part of the Library of Congress' collection," the article noted. "Trump's Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York."

Like "so help me God," Bibles aren't a requirement for the swearing-in ceremony.

"It's not a requirement for the country's commander in chief to take the oath of office using a Bible, but it's a presidential inauguration tradition started by George Washington," The Tennessean reported.

The speech

Trump spoke for just over 16 minutes after taking the oath of office. He outlined his goals for his time in office, including bringing an "America first" mindset back to the White House.

Although he didn't mention God until his inauguration speech was nearly over, he included several references to faith in the final few minutes.

"When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity," he said.

Later, he said, "Whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator."

He also criticized extremist Islam, vowing to stop groups like the Islamic State.

"We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth," he said.

Trump concluded his address with familiar words: "Thank you, God bless you and God bless America."

Religious services

Although not part of Friday's main ceremony, two religious services were also part of inauguration weekend.

The Trump family joined with Vice President Mike Pence's family at a private prayer service three hours before the public swearing-in.

"Friday morning's worship service, held at St. John's Episcopal Church across the street from the White House, continued a modern Inauguration Day ritual. With the exception of Richard Nixon in 1973, every president since Franklin Roosevelt has attended spiritual services on inauguration day," CNN reported.

Trump, Pence and around 300 other guests heard a sermon from the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a controversial Southern Baptist megachurch pastor who has criticized Islam, Mormonism and the Catholic Church in the past.

"On Fox News on Thursday Night, Jeffress said his sermon centers on Nehemiah, a Trump-like figure from the Hebrew Bible," CNN reported. "'I'm going to use Nehemiah's story as an example of why God blesses leaders,' Jeffress said."

Trump will also attend a Saturday-morning interfaith prayer service, where around 25 leaders from America's many faith communities will deliver brief reflections, scripture readings or prayers.

Speakers include Carlyle Begay from Navajo Nation, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, Imam Mohamed Magid and Cissie Graham Lynch, who is the granddaughter of Billy Graham, Christianity Today reported.

The National Cathedral drew criticism for agreeing to host Trump, but leaders argued that the event will celebrate God and America, not the new president.

"Like previous inaugural prayer services, it is designed to reflect the diversity of our nation and to remind the president as he sets out on his job that he is called to lead all of us, not just a narrow few," said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

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