Detroit pastor gets pulpit at Trump’s inaugural

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

A Detroit black pastor will have the biggest pulpit in the nation on Friday when he prays at the swearing-in of President-elect Donald Trump.

Bishop Wayne T. Jackson said he will pray to heal the wounds of a divided nation, even as he continues to field threats against himself over hosting Trump during the Labor Day weekend at his church.

Jackson, who will deliver the benediction at Friday’s inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, sparked controversy in September when he invited the Republican presidential nominee to Great Faith Ministries International church on Grand River for a worship service and private interview that aired on his African-American Christian cable channel, the Impact Network. Crowds of protesters were outside the event.

Detroit is a majority black city where voters backed Democrat Hillary Clinton 95 percent to 3 percent in the Nov. 8 election.

“Some people didn’t like that I interviewed him and allowed him to come to the service. Some people just got a lot of hate in them, and there’s a lot of hate in this country about this election,” Jackson said in an interview, noting he gets threats online, through social media and even some around Detroit.

“But I got to do what I know is right.”

He and Trump had a connection at the interview, but Jackson said he was surprised when the inaugural committee invited him to Washington. His agreement to participate is not an endorsement of the president-elect, Jackson said.

“My position is, I am a man of God. I follow the teachings of Christ — not the teachings of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party,” he said.

“What if the Secret Service said, I’m not going to protect a certain president because I don’t like him or don’t agree with their philosophies or whatever? Do I stop doing my job? No. ... Jesus Christ accepted us all.”

About 100 members of Jackson’s congregation signed up to travel to Washington for the inauguration, Jackson said.

His concern is that the country needs to come together, but many folks aren’t giving Trump a chance.

“Even President Obama said, at least give him a chance. Everybody is pre-judging him, and pre-judging his leadership. Why don’t we wait and see?” he said.

“This is a democracy, and the people have selected him and Vice President Pence, so we just need to get on board and quit the division, because we go nowhere fighting against each other. A house divided, Jesus said, cannot stand. ... And that is what my prayer is going to be about — about being united.”

Trump visit backlash

Trump’s visit to Jackson’s church was part of his campaign outreach to African-Americans. The New York businessman participated in a church service, talked to the congregation from notes and was presented by Jackson with a Jewish prayer shawl.

Trump vowed in his church remarks to make African-Americans more prosperous, a theme he repeated for all Americans during the campaign.

“I believe that we need a civil rights agenda for our time. One that ensures the rights to a great education — so important — and the right to live in safety and in peace and to have a really, really great job,” Trump said.

By design, Trump did not take questions from the congregation, which angered black leaders at the time.

The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a politically active Detroit pastor and Democrat, helped organize a protest march when Trump appeared at Jackson’s church.

Sheffield has talked to Jackson about the relationship he is building with Trump and told Jackson he hopes it will go beyond benefiting Great Faith Ministries International and help the greater 48204 ZIP code.

“Is it just for him? Or is it something that builds his reputation? Or is it something that’s ultimately going to lend itself to the community that he comes from also benefiting?” said Sheffield, pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church. “If you’re going to rub noses with the hog, bring some bacon back.”

Other religious leaders included in the Friday inaugural are the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and the Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Prosperity gospel

Also participating is the Rev. Paula White, who along with Jackson has been known to preach the prosperity gospel — the controversial teaching that God rewards the faithful with wealth, health and happiness.

Anthony Pinn, who studies African-American religions at Rice University in Houston, said prosperity preachers highlight the “transactional” nature of faith — that if individuals behave properly in the eyes of God, God will give them something in return to further their well-being.

“Their account of the gospel is very American. It’s a way of spiritualizing or theologically presenting the American dream ... life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Pinn said.

“It’s got an economic dimension, but it becomes a way, in the context of religious faith, of making the American dream God’s will for the faithful.”

It is unusual to have the prosperity gospel front and center at an official event such as the inauguration, Pinn said. But Trump, a Presbyterian, is the first president in some time whose religious beliefs are unclear, he noted.

Jackson said he doesn’t think he has preached the prosperity message in “years.”

“People may see me as a prosperity preacher because I’m a businessman, too, and I’m blessed of God,” Jackson said, adding that he and his wife have given tens of thousands of dollars to the needy.

“I preach all aspects of the gospel. We don’t set our message just on whatever you call prosperity.”

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