One of the ministers photographed last week laying hands on President Trump and circling him in prayer took exception in a July 19 news conference in Charlotte, N.C., to a civil-rights leader’s labeling the viral image as “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C., and former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said when he first read comments attributed to North Carolina NAACP President William Barber he thought, “Just what part of praying for all of those who are in authority does Brother Barber miss?”
“I was one of the ministers that was privileged to pray with the president in the Oval Office Monday a week ago,” Land said at press conference featuring five conservative clergy rebutting Barber’s comments on Saturday’s AM Joy program on MSNBC.
Barber, founder of the Moral Mondays protest movement in North Carolina and a frequent Trump critic, said the clergy in the photograph should be challenging the president’s actions instead of laying hands on him.
“When you can p-r-a-y for a president and others while they are p-r-e-y, preying on the most vulnerable, you’re violating the most sacred principles of religion,” Barber told MSNBC host Joy Reid. Barber expanded those comments in a piece he wrote for ThinkProgress July 19.
Land, who as Southern Baptists’ top spokesman on public policy and religious liberty concerns frequently criticized President Obama, said the clergy in the impromptu gathering prayed the same prayer for President Trump that he used to pray for his predecessor.
“I didn’t vote for Mr. Obama either time, but the Bible commands us to pray for those who are in authority,” Land said. “So I prayed every day for President Obama that God would give him wisdom, that God would give him guidance, that God would give him direction and that God would keep him safe from harm.”
He also offered Barber some unsolicited advice.
“I was a teenager during the 1960s,” Land said. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero of mine. Frankly, as a teenager and a Christian, I had a hard time in loving racial bigots. … I knew God loved them, but I had a hard time. Then I heard Dr. King at a press conference say ‘Those that you would change you must first love.’ I thought to myself, ‘You know, if Dr. King can love Jim Clark and Dr. King can love Bull Connor, then I can love them.’ And I would say to Brother Barber and to other critics, those that you would change you must first love.”
“I don’t feel very loved by Brother Barber,” he said.
Land described how he came to be included in the prayer gathering, which also included former SBC Presidents Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd and First Baptist Church of Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress.
“I was invited there for a work day,” he said. “The former members of the Evangelical Faith Advisory Board were asked to come — by the way at our own expense, and we even paid for our own lunch; no taxpayer money was involved — and we spent the day with members of Mr. Trump’s staff, White House staff, and were briefed on things like judicial nominations, legislative issues. We were able to give our feedback and our concerns.”
As they were finishing lunch, Land said, Vice President Mike Pence walked in.
“Vice President Pence is, of course, an evangelical Christian,” Land said. “When I agreed to join the Evangelical Faith Advisory Board, I did tell them: ‘Now you need to understand before I agree to join that Mr. Trump is not my first choice. He was not my second choice. He was not my third choice. In fact he was my last choice among Republican candidates for president.’
“They said, that’s all right, we want your counsel and want your input, and I said, well, I’ll be glad to give it.
“They said, ‘What’s the first piece of advice you have for Mr. Trump?’
“‘Pick Mike Pence as your vice president,’” Land recalled his response. “‘It will do more to instill confidence among evangelicals to be able to vote for you than anything else you can do.’ I’m not the only person who said that, but I’m glad that he did it.”
Pence told the group that he was in the Oval Office with the president when Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner came in and said he had just been at the briefing at another part of the White House complex. Pence told Trump he wanted to go over and greet the group, and the president told him when he was finished to bring them back to the West Wing.
“So we got up, walked across the street, walked straight into the Oval Office,” Land said. “He asked us to gather around him at his desk. We visited with him for 10 or 12 minutes, and then we said, ‘Mr. President can we pray for you?’ And he said, ‘Yes of course.’”