The Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is prepared for the upcoming Republican National Convention, July 13, 2016.
Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP

At this convention, even the benediction sparks controversy

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who leads a congregation that includes Ivanka Trump and her family, had been scheduled to deliver the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention. As the New York Times reported, however, late last week, he bowed out.
“The whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended,” Lookstein said in a statement. “In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation.”
He was replaced with Pastor Mark Burns, who frequently appears with Donald Trump, and who told Bloomberg Politics he would focus on “coming together as a nation.” Burns added a few days ago, “I will be talking about unity and love. We must not be focused on our divisions. We are one people.”
Sounds great. So, how’d that turn out? The Huffington Post reported:
Mark Burns, a pastor from South Carolina, on Monday delivered perhaps the most politically charged benediction ever heard at a national convention.
Burns warned the prayerful delegates at the Republican National Convention that “our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.”
“Let’s pray together,” he said, before denouncing again “the liberal Democratic party.”
Note, plenty of speeches at the Republican National Convention included rhetoric like this. It is, after all, the Republican National Convention. We should expect biting, partisan attacks.
But this was a pastor delivering the benediction. The guy had just promised not to “focus on our divisions,” shortly before describing Americans from the other political party as his “enemy.”
Right Wing Watch posted the video of Burns’ “prayer” – I guess that’s the appropriate noun? – and also noted the South Carolinian said he’s thankful to God for “giving [Trump] the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party.”
As a rule, the opening prayer at a national convention should be the least controversial part of the night. This year in Cleveland, things are a little … different.