Politics & Government

SC pastor's partisan prayer, comments raise eyebrows at Republican National Convention

SC pastor delivers benediction at Republican National Convention

Mark Burns of Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley delivered the benediction during the Republican National Convention.
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Mark Burns of Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley delivered the benediction during the Republican National Convention.

In a booming voice that might have sent any demons in the greater Cleveland area scurrying across Lake Erie, Pastor Mark Burns of Easley declared to the delegates at the Republican National Convention that Donald Trump is a man of God and that the "enemy" is “Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party."

Burns, pastor of the Harvest Praise & Worship Center and co-founder and CEO of an Easley-based religious TV network, called down some wrath upon himself, however, with his comments and benediction, from critics who said he had crossed the line in injecting God into partisan politics.

In his prayer at the conclusion of Monday's proceedings, he thanked God for giving Trump “the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party.”

“Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God,” he continued.

“Give him the words, give him the peace, give him the power and the authority to be the next president of the United States of America, in Jesus’ name. If you believe it, shout Amen!”

The Interfaith Alliance, a national group that seeks to keep politicians from misusing religion for political purposes, responded by releasing a statement calling Burns’ prayer and remarks inappropriate.

“The idea that a member of the clergy would invoke his God’s name and, in the next breath, declare the candidate from the other party to be the enemy seems to be an attempt to replace ‘nomination’ with ‘ordination,’ “ the statement says. “However, invoking religion to launch such attacks devalues faith and disrespects the people of the United States who are hoping for a debate on the issues, not an ‘ex cathedra’ pronouncement.

“Republican delegates should decline to respond ‘amen.’”

Burns, in a telephone interview from Cleveland on Wednesday, said he wishes he had worded his comments differently.

“If I could go back and use different wording I wouldn’t have said ‘enemy,’” he toldThe Greenville News. “I would have said ‘political opponents.’"

His intention, he said was to bring the party together behind Trump after an attempted coup on the convention floor earlier in the day.

“That needed to be a message of reminding the Republican Party that we should not be fighting with each other at this stage, fighting with other Republicans, but that but our real opponent is not other Republicans but Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party,” he said.

Others took offense at his portrayal of Trump as carrying the nation forward under the banner of Christianity.

Leading into his prayer, Burns said, “I’m going to pray and I’m going to give the benediction. And you know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ!”

After praying that the GOP is “the conservative party under God,” he asked the Lord “to defeat every attack that comes against us, to protect the life of Donald Trump.”

“Burns shattered any misconception that prosperity preachers cannot be political,” the progressive news site Think Progress posted. “Instead, he delivered a prayer that unapologetically asked God to side with Republicans over Democrats, a move that sharply broke from the long legacy of relatively non-partisan prayers at conventions.”

Not everyone was critical.

“As always Pastor Mark Burns knows how to Bring it!” a Trump supporter with the Twitter handle Melissa tweeted. “Prayers in the name of Jesus; that's something you will not hear at the DNC”

Burns told The News that he can only pray as a Christian and noted that a Sikh and a Muslim also offered prayers during the proceedings.

“The Republican Party hasn’t excluded any focus on any one particular religion,” he said.

“I pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through his son Jesus Christ. I don’t make any apologies for being a Christian,” he said.

Burns spoke to The News from the recently crowned NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers’ dressing room, which has been converted to a “green room” for convention speakers.

“LeBron James’ locker is right beside me,” he said.

He had just finished rehearsing the speech he is scheduled to deliver Thursday at 8:10 p.m.

He said he will talk about unifying the nation.

Jim Guth, a political science professor at Furman University, said partisan prayers at national conventions are virtually unprecedented, at least in recent times, with the exception of occasional references to issues such as abortion.

“So going after a party in an invocation or benediction is something that historically you’d have to go back quite a ways to find something akin to it,” said Guth, who specializes in the study of religion’s influence in politics.

Such a departure from convention is not unusual for the Trump campaign however, he said.

“In a lot of ways, to put it kindly, they’re kind of an eccentric bunch, so it’s not surprising that you end up with maybe a clergy member who is going to take off after the other party.”

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