Joel Hunter Leads Blessing for Obama
California megachurch pastor Rick Warren drew the most fire for offering the invocation at the inauguration, but another evangelical pastor prayed with Barack Obama for the third time in recent months. Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter offered a blessing at the private prayer service for "Barack Hussein Obama" the morning of his inauguration, asking that those surrounding the President would place their hands on him.
Hunter, a registered Republican, was also asked to pray at the Democratic National Convention and on Election Day with Obama. The author of the book A New Kind of Conservative: Cooperation Without Compromise spoke with Christianity Today the night of the inauguration about the prayer service and what he expects from the new administration.
Can you tell me more about your involvement in the private prayer service?
I said, "In the ancient tradition of laying on hands, will those of you who are directly behind and beside the president, please lean forward and put your hands on his shoulders." The president-elect had on one side Michelle and on the other side Mary Robinson, his mother-in-law. But in order to give a traditional blessing, it's traditional to lay hands, it's also traditional to use a person's full name, which I did. The church of course is just historic and beautifully, and of course T.D. Jakes (who gave the sermon) was just super. He was relatively brief, I'm sure it was tough for him, but he just did a grand job.
How in touch have you been with the transition team?
I have chimed in, when asked and when I have been in Washington. Last week they asked if I would come to the faith team and the Middle Eastern foreign policy team. I'm just part of this throng of people that they're seeking more than opinions. What's comforting to me is they're very proactive — they asked for me by name — in that Middle Eastern policy meeting. David Gushee and I were the evangelicals, but there were so many representatives of different denominations: the head of the North American Islamic Society and a rabbi. That's part of how I think he thinks, and how his transition team thinks. It's so interesting to go into meetings because you can tell this transition team has been trained to listen. They will listen and take notes and ask questions, there's no sales job, there are no talking points. It's, "Tell us what you want to say." They are as attentive as they can possibly be.
Do you have any sense of who will lead the office of faith-based and community initiatives?
I don't. Joshua DuBois is still playing a major role, and he probably has a better relationship and more active with religious leadership across the country than anybody, so he'll have a major role to play. I don't know what it will be, but he'll continue to have a major role. From my perspective his credibility has grown, he has several good assistants now, his confidence has grown. He's always been very responsive to me. I do think this is one of those things that you kind of grow into. You go along and learn and if you pick up and start to become conversant with several religious leaders then you gain confidence and credibility, and I think that's what's happening with Joshua.
It seems like religion often appeared to have a negative impact on Obama during his campaign because of his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. Reflecting on that does that hurt his credibility?
They're very patient. Of course as you go along you're going to have some unpleasant surprises, but I think in a mature perspective that's just part of the package. In the long run that will benefit them much more than just trying to avoid that conflict.