WASHINGTON (RNS) — The Rev. Silvester S. Beaman, pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, a predominantly Black church, will deliver the benediction at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Beaman, who has known the Biden family for nearly 30 years, is considered a confidant of the president-elect, and collaborated with his son Beau Biden when Beau served as Delaware’s attorney general in the mid-to-late 2000s.
“It is an extreme honor,” Beaman told Religion News Service on Thursday morning (Jan. 14), noting that Biden called him personally to extend the invitation. “Any clergy person asked to do this particular priestly function would also see it as an extreme honor.”
The pastor said he sees benedictions as “God’s final grace on worshippers” before they leave a service, and he intends to pray for healing to come to “a troubled nation.”
Beaman praised what he described as Biden’s earnest approach to faith.
“President-elect Biden has been a man who has sought after the heart of God,” he said. “You look at his life and you can see that, during the difficult times in his life, he was sustained by faith.”
He added: “It’s good to know that there will be a president who is sincerely a Christian, who sincerely seeks after the heart of God — not as a political ploy, not as political correctness, but simply as a human being.”
The pastor welcomed then-candidate Biden to his church in Wilmington last June after demonstrations erupted following the police killing of George Floyd. Biden met with Black leaders and decried racism during the event, promising those present he would set up a police oversight group in his first 100 days in office.
“The vice president came to hear from us. This is a homeboy,” Beaman said at the time.
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The visit to Bethel AME drew more national attention a few months later, when President Donald Trump’s campaign created an advertisement that featured footage of Biden kneeling in front of Black leaders — including Beaman — in the church’s sanctuary. It was followed by a slide that read “Stop Joe Biden and his rioters” and an audio clip of Vice President Mike Pence saying, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
Beaman told RNS at the time the ad was “overtly racist,” arguing it amounted to an “attack on the African American church” as a whole. He and several AME denominational leaders signed a letter demanding the Trump campaign issue an immediate apology and remove the ad.
Beaman voiced additional criticism of Trump on Thursday. The pastor noted that he had prayed Thursday morning for people who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week — people he described as “perpetrating violence in the name of liberty.” He argued that the insurrectionists had been spurred by “untruths” uttered by Trump, who was using them as “pawns.”
Beaman also rejected those who equate last year’s racial justice demonstrations with the Capitol assault, saying, “It’s simply not the same.”
Also speaking during the inauguration will be the Rev. Leo O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and former president of Georgetown University. O’Donovan, who is slated to deliver the invocation, is another longtime friend of the Bidens: He presided at the funeral Mass for Beau after he died of brain cancer in 2015.
Other dignitaries in the swearing-in ceremony include Andrea Hall, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3920, who will say the Pledge of Allegiance; performing artist Lady Gaga, who will sing the national anthem; Amanda Gorman, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate, who will read poetry; and performing artist Jennifer Lopez, who will offer a musical number.