One indication of Trump’s unorthodox approach in choosing inauguration prayer leaders is the absence of any representative of mainline Protestantism, the dominant faith tradition of U.S. presidents throughout the country’s history. On the other hand, Trump is the first to invite a Hispanic evangelical leader, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and senior pastor at New Season Christian Worship Center, an Assemblies of God congregation in Sacramento, Calif.
Rodriguez accepted the invitation despite some misgivings about Trump’s hard-line immigration views.
“There was a bit of angst due to the fact that throughout the course of this campaign, the rhetoric and tone, as it pertained particularly to the immigrant community, did not line up with the ethos or the values of the NHCLC,” Rodriguez told NPR. He agreed to come to Washington for the inauguration after “prayerful deliberation and discussion” and a conclusion that he could not pass up an opportunity to pray on “the quintessential political platform on the planet.”
Among Hispanic evangelicals, Rodriguez is one of the more conservative leaders. While he did not endorse Trump, he told NPR that he has heard a “change of tone” from Trump in the past few weeks, and now has high hopes for better relations between Hispanics and the Trump administration.
“Thirty percent of Latinos voted for Donald Trump,” Rodriguez points out. “There’s a great possibility that the president-elect and his team have come to the realization that this constituency could be engaged successfully.”
Generally, Trump’s selection of inauguration prayer leaders reflects his tendency to break with mainstream thinking — and the importance he places on loyalty. With his invitations, he has rewarded clergy members who support him politically, endorse his views, or even offer a religious approval of his great wealth.
The least surprising prayer leader choice is Cardinal Dolan. Most U.S. presidents in recent years have asked a prominent Catholic bishop or theologian to pray at their inaugurations, and as fellow New Yorkers, Dolan and Trump have known each other for a long time.