Photos of Presidents at Church or With Pastors Have Always Been Controversial

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump made a surprise appearance at McLean Bible Church in Virginia and was prayed over by Pastor David Platt.

The occasion garnered much controversy. Many commended Platt for his prayer and argued that he handled the unexpected situation well as a minister.

“Platt was 100% genuine in his prayer and God is 100% able to hear Platt’s prayer and change Trump’s heart,” wrote John Wesley Reid in a column for The Christian Post published June 4.

Others, including CP’s Politics Editor Napp Nazworth, denounced the prayer as a “photo op” in which Platt was “unwittingly used as a political prop.”

Photos of presidents at church or with pastors have been fairly common since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, according to historian and Grove City College professor Gary Scott Smith, author of Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush.

“Pictures of FDR, who rarely attended church but did take Churchill and George VI with him on different occasions, Eisenhower, and Clinton stand out,” explained Smith to CP.

“The National Prayer Breakfast, which began during the Eisenhower administration has been a particularly important source, venue for these photo-ops.”

While normally not a controversial practice, Smith noted, from time to time the imagery of presidential politics and religious imagery stirred up passionate sentiments.

As an example, Smith pointed to an incident from 1955 when Democratic Senator Matthew Neely of West Virginia criticized regular church attender President Dwight Eisenhower of having many photos of him leaving church services.

Senator Neely called President Eisenhower a “publican,” accusing him of trying “to parade his religious associations or connections for political purposes.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski