President Trump spent more than an hour Saturday at an interfaith prayer service designed to appeal for national unity as an expected 500,000 people streamed into the nation’s capital to protest his fledgling presidency.
Trump and Vice President Pence sat in the front row of the Washington National Cathedral as more than two dozen faith leaders, including a Muslim, offered brief prayers and readings interspersed with religious and patriotic hymns.
Trump did not speak at the event, which came at the start of his first full day in office following inaugural activities Friday capped by three evening balls. Trump shook hands with many of the diverse group of speakers as he departed the historic church Saturday with family members.
Among them was Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, in Sterling, Va., who offered a Muslim call to prayer. Magid drew flak for his participation from some fellow Muslims, who have been sharply critical of Trump for his campaign promises to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country as well as a registry to monitor those who practice the religion.
Representatives from Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Bahá’í traditions also participated in the traditional event. The lineup was heavy on evangelicals, with more participating compared to those of past presidents. Exit polls showed Trump beating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton among white Christian evangelicals by a margin of about 4 to 1.
Trump’s participation in the service came as a huge Women’s March on Washington was taking place on the Mall, where the audience congregated for his swearing-in ceremony on Friday. Similar large-scale protests were taking place Saturday in New York and other cities around the country and globe.
The prayer service was invitation-only and not open to the public, but it was broadcast live on C-SPAN2.
Several speakers made reference to Trump’s presidency, including Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.
“Grant to the president, vice president and members of the Cabinet wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties, that they may serve all people of this nation and promote the dignity and freedom of every person,” Jackson said.
Other notable speakers included Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr.; Cleveland Pastor Darrell Scott, who led the National Diversity Coalition for Trump's campaign and was later named a vice chairman of the transition; and Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of evangelist Billy Graham.
Trump grew up in a Presbyterian family, attending church regularly. But, in a departure from most Republican candidates seeking the presidency, he rarely referred to God or invoked the importance of religion in his life during his campaign.
In a statement before the service, Trump’s inaugural committee said the event would be “in keeping with the uniting and uplifting inaugural events, demonstrating President-elect Trump’s commitment to be president for all Americans.”
The National Cathedral has regularly hosted interfaith services, but Trump’s appearance drew objections from some in its Episcopal congregation. The Episcopal Church has grown increasingly liberal in recent decades, including in its support of same-sex marriage.
Church leaders said they believed it was important to participate in an event focused on unifying the country.