White House Deputy Spokesman Judd Deere generated plenty of positive headlines for President Donald Trump when he put out a statement on Sunday that Trump was visiting McLean Bible Church to “pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach,” site of a recent mass shooting. But there’s no evidence to support that claim.
David Platt, the pastor who ended up praying for Trump while the president stood on the church stage with his golf hat in his hands, told church members that he was in the middle of a worship service when he was “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 us to pray for him.”
In other words, it wasn’t about the victims of a mass shooting, it was about Trump. There’s good reason to believe that Trump or one of his staff members figured it would be good to get a photo-op on a Sunday that Religious Right leaders had designated as a day for conservative Christians to pray for Trump and against his political enemies—especially since, as religion professor David Bain and historian John Fea have noted, Trump was being criticized for not being in church on his special day. (He was, of course, on the golf course.)
In Fea’s words, “It almost seems as if Trump saw the critical posts and decided, on the 14th green at Trump National Golf Club, to show up at a church somewhere and receive prayer.”
At McLean Bible Church, Trump said nothing to the congregation, and Platt’s prayer said nothing about the Virginia Beach shooting.
But Trump got the photo-op and a slew of apparently misleading headlines about him going to church to pray for shooting victims.
HuffPost’s S.V. Date reported that “the White House would not clarify why it claimed Trump’s visit was related to the shooting.”