Platt alluded to Graham’s day of prayer in introducing the president. But he had not publicly signed on to participate in the day, and his prayer did not conform to its nationalistic spirit. If Trump wanted to make an appearance with a pastor who would lavish him with praise and edge up to endorsing him, 40-year-old Platt was an odd choice. As an author, Platt is best known for the 2010 book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, which, if not exactly radical by most standards, does question the materialism of mainstream American culture. “I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, ‘How could they live in such big houses? How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes?’ ” he wrote. “How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn’t even exist?” David Brooks wrote approvingly of the book in 2010, identifying Platt as a key figure in the cultural recalibration away from wealth-obsessed pre-Recession values—what we might now call “Trump values.” Last year, Platt preached about the perils of nationalism on Fourth of July weekend.
Politically, Platt’s entire ministry has been as assiduously nonpartisan as his prayer on Sunday was. Former White House staffer Cliff Sims wrote in Team of Vipers, his recent book about his tenure in the Trump administration, that Sims had wanted to invite Platt to deliver the keynote speech at a White House prayer breakfast. According to Sims, pastor Paula White, a Trump ally, rejected the suggestion because Platt “believes the American dream is evil.” Sims later told Christianity Today that Platt himself had felt conflicted too because of the baggage that comes with being seen as a political pastor.
As critics pointed out, Platt may not have praised Trump this past weekend, but he did invite him onstage. “The prayer was very nonpartisan and very inclusive, but at the same time, there’s an image of this pastor with a positive expression on his face laying a hand on Donald Trump and the other hand holding up a Bible, and Trump has his head bowed,” Dan Nejfelt, who works for a national network of progressive faith leaders, told me. “That image conveys Trump is a Christian and a normal leader that Christians can get behind.” Photographs of Platt praying for Trump have already been used to illustrated approving coverage by Breitbart, the Christian Post, and the Christian Broadcasting Network, among others.
In his letter to parishioners, Platt wrote that his “aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party.” Referring to a New Testament passage about the importance of praying for everyone, including “kings and all who are in high positions,” Platt wrote about his struggle:
"I know that some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision. This weighs heavy on my heart. I love every member of this church, and I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God. … I’m guessing that all of us will face other decisions this week where we don’t have time to deliberate on what to do. I’m praying now for grace and wisdom for all of us to do exactly what we talked about in the Word today: aim for God’s glory, align with God’s purpose, and yield to God’s sovereignty."