WASHINGTON (RNS) Donald J. Trump placed his hand on two Bibles and took the oath of office in a swearing-in ceremony that featured prayers and pronouncements of God’s favor by the largest assortment of clergy in inaugural history.
It also drew protests around the nation’s capital.
A crowd along the National Mall watched the presidential inauguration on Friday (Jan. 20) as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to the new president in front of the Capitol.
Trump chose two Bibles for the occasion — a family Bible and the Lincoln Bible, which also had been Barack Obama’s choice.
And he followed it with an inaugural address that drew cheers from the crowd for promises the United States would unite the world to eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” and “most importantly … be protected by God.”
“These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public,” Trump said.
In a dark speech that evoked “American carnage” and proclaimed it “the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” the new president offered a message that could be interpreted as an olive branch to those he alienated throughout his campaign, or as a rejection of the charge that many of his supporters are bigoted.
He briefly quoted Scripture, drawing on Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” And, he added, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
At Trump’s promise of God’s protection, a voice in the crowd exclaimed: “That’s right!”
It was Alex Jones, the conservative radio show host and conspiracy theorist behind the website InfoWars.
“Trump invoked the birthright of America,” Jones told RNS after the ceremony. “Obama and the globalists know they brought in the occult thing of making everybody hate America, and not saying Jesus Christ and things like that so that we don’t have God’s protection and Providence.”
“Trump’s announcing we’re taking the Providence back and restoring the Republic and our destiny. It’s very powerful. The enemy’s really scared.”
The gathering was populated with hardcore Trump supporters, like Jones, who cheered the new president and his wife, Melania, as they walked in and jeered Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who Trump defeated during a bitter campaign in which he pledged to jail her once he became president.
At times the inauguration felt like a Trump election rally, with the crowd booing when Clinton’s face was shown on the Jumbotrons and when Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York spoke.
The center of the nation’s capital, including the National Mall and the monuments, was closed off to vehicle traffic. Protests are scheduled to take place throughout the weekend, including some led by religious groups calling on their followers to oppose the president, or at least some of his proposals, on moral grounds.
The ceremony began with Scripture readings and an invocation by prosperity gospel preacher Paula White, the first clergywoman ever to fill that role. Other religious figures offering prayers and readings during the one-hour ceremony included the Rev. Franklin Graham, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan – more than at previous inaugurations.
“To me, that meant everything,” Janet Lynn, a health care worker, who traveled from Minneapolis, Minn., to see Trump sworn in as president, said afterward.
White, Graham, Jackson and Rodriguez all made their comments “in Jesus’ name.” In 2008, Pastor Rick Warren caused controversy by including the phrase in his invocation at Obama’s inauguration.
Graham, who has said God allowed Trump to win the presidential election, made brief remarks before reading from 1 Timothy 2. He pointed out that a rain shower fell just as the new president began his inaugural address.
“In the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” he said.
The rain forced many in the crowd to cover themselves with plastic ponchos, since umbrellas were not permitted for security reasons.
Rodriguez read from Chapter 5 in the Gospel of Matthew, including the Beatitudes and the “city on a hill” passage so central to America’s founding ideal and so popular in U.S. politics.
And instead of the more traditional translation of the opening of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Rodriguez used a different take from the New Living Translation of the Bible: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.”
He told RNS afterward that his use of the translation was intentional. “I want to heal. I want to reconcile. I want to bring good news to the suffering.”
Trump, who identifies as Presbyterian, also seemed to allude to the “city on a hill” imagery famously used by the 17th-century Puritan New Englander, John Winthrop, and by the late President Ronald Reagan.
“We will shine for everyone to follow,” he said.
The Republican was elected with strong conservative Christian support. And he’s taking the reins of a government with a cast of high-level appointees, many of whom share right-wing religious views.
“Some of my conservative friends and I, we have been pinching ourselves,” Richard Land, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist News Global earlier this week.
“Are we hallucinating, or is this actually happening?”
Land, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said he was consulted five times for personal recommendations.
In recent weeks, the Senate has held confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet picks. If approved, they would include an education secretary who supports school vouchers to get more children into private religious schools, a climate-change denier and a national security adviser who called Islam “a political ideology hiding behind a religion.”
Conservative Christian leaders have made no secret of their expectation that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who describes himself as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” will reward their votes with legislation to defund abortion providers, and by appointing a justice with a record of anti-abortion views to fill the position left vacant last year by the late Antonin Scalia.
White evangelicals voted for Trump in record numbers — 81 percent cast their ballot for him — and some of them were among the early arrivals on the Mall to reinforce their support even as they recognized Trump’s personal shortcomings.
Teresa Kelton, a realtor from Waxahachie, Texas, who calls herself a “committed Christian,” said she vote for Trump, but not because she considered him a paradigm of faith.
“God can use a donkey,” said Kelton, who came to Washington with her son and a friend. “Why can’t he use Trump?”
She said that when was watching television during the election coverage she noticed that when the pundits couldn’t understand why Trump kept winning she thought of a verse from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”
Kelton said she brought that prayer with her to the inauguration.
Lori Wooten, a churchgoing Methodist who had traveled here with her family from Gray, Tennessee, was also hopeful about what Trump would do for those who share her beliefs.
“We feel like Trump is going to protect our religious freedom more than the Democratic party,” said Wooten, who works for a health care company. “There have been studies that show Christians are the most persecuted group.”
“If you say anything about Islamic terrorism or anything at all negative toward Islam then we are made out to be racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, whatever names,” she continued. “We are not allowed to speak our minds.”
“Donald Trump is a Christian and I feel like he’s a very good believer in God,” added her 12-year-old son, Petie.
Roger Willis, a warehouse worker from Riverdale, Maryland, identifies as a Christian but said his faith “really didn’t have anything to do with my vote.”
Willis does believe that “God put everybody where they need to be. There’s a reason Donald Trump is president. God knows what he is going to do,” he added, meaning it as a statement of fact rather than concern.
(RNS national reporter Lauren Markoe contributed to this report)