In the aftermath of a shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal complex, President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Mclean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia. Though the White House insisted that Trump made the visit to pay tribute to the 12 people killed in the shooting, Pastor David Platt says he was told to pray for Trump. There was no mention of the Virginia Beach shooting during the prayer or while Trump was present.
In a letter addressed to his congregation, Platt explained that he "in no way" intended to endorse President Donald Trump when Trump appeared onstage with him following a sermon.
"My aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party, but to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays," he wrote.
Although The Washington Post had initially reported that Trump went to the church to pray for the victims of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Platt says Trump had asked the congregation to "pray" for him.
"At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper," he wrote. "But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him."
Trump's appearance baffled many familiar with Platt's nonpartisan preaching style, which has been noted for criticizing both materialism and nationalism.
Platt says that when he was informed of Trump's plans to attend the service, he recalled a part of a Bible passage that states, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people . . . for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Platt then further explained his reasons for leading the prayer:
"I wanted to share all of this with you in part because I know that some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision. This weighs heavy on my heart. I love every member of this church, and I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God. So while I am thankful that we had an opportunity to obey 1 Timothy 2 in a unique way today, I don’t want to purposely ever do anything that undermines the unity we have in Christ."
Platt also shared a video from the event.
“Many of you may have seen that there was a call to, particularly on this Sunday, pray for our president,” Platt can be heard saying at the McLean church. “We don’t want to do that just on this Sunday. We want to do that continually, day in and day out. So, I want to ask us to bow our heads together now and pray for our president.”
People were calling foul that Trump didn't pay tribute to the shooting victims.
Platt's letter, however, has garnered a widely positive reception online.
Trump's appearance at the church came after Christian leaders called for Sunday to be declared a "Day of Prayer" for the president. Trump's many scandals have split the evangelical community and the gulf "appears to be widening" as congregations become more diversified, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.