The announcement that controversial TV evangelist Paula White will perform a special role at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has angered many Americans, especially Christians on the conservative right.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced on Friday (AEST) that Ms White would be one of six religious leaders participating in the swearing-in ceremony. The group will say prayers for Mr Trump, according to several reports.
Ms White, 50, who pastors a so-called ‘mega church’ with 10,000 members in Florida, was an outspoken Trump supporter throughout his campaign against Hillary Clinton, calling him “caring”, “compassionate” and “a Christian”.
The pair have known each other since 2002, and she regularly engages in hour-long prayer sessions with Mr Trump and his family, TIME reported. Mr Trump has described her as a “tremendous friend”.
Ms White is a ‘prosperity gospel’ TV preacher, which means she regularly solicits donations. She uses her syndicated show, Paula Today, to tell viewers that giving “seed offerings” of cash to her organisation will earn them God’s special “favour” in their finances, health and love life.
The TV preacher has been divorced twice, and recently married rock star Jonathan Cain, keyboardist for the band Journey. She reportedly owns several multi-million-dollar homes, including a luxury apartment in Trump Tower. Her ‘before and after’ photos appear on several websites that track celebrity plastic surgery.
Ms White’s previous church, Without Walls International, which she led with ex-husband Randy White, filed for bankruptcy in 2014 because of millions of dollars in debts. The church was the subject of a congressional investigation over reports of extravagant spending on luxury cars and chartered jets. The investigation found no “definitive proof” of wrongdoing.
Her selection has been heavily criticised by right-wing Christian Republicans, including blogger Erick Erickson, who wrote: “I’d rather a Hindu pray on Inauguration Day and not risk the souls of men, than one whose heresy lures in souls with promises of comfort only to damn them in eternity.”
Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist, called Ms White a “charlatan” and a “heretic”, while Christian Republican journalist Paula Bolyard wrote that Ms White’s inclusion was “exactly what we expected”.
“Paula White has a long history of bankruptcies, failed business ventures, and unsuccessful marriages, which makes her the perfect choice to deliver a prayer on behalf of a President-elect who has proudly proclaimed that he’s never felt the need to ask forgiveness from God for anything,” Ms Bolyard wrote.
Ms White described her inclusion in the ceremony among “other distinguished men and women of faith” as a humbling experience.
“I will be humbled to stand shoulder to shoulder on stage with the new administration, other distinguished men and women of faith, and with the great sea of witnesses watching around the country and around the world who continue to pray for God to bless America,” Ms White wrote in a statement to The Christian Post.
The other five religious leaders at the inauguration are more mainstream choices. They include Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham; the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan; and a Jewish rabbi, Marvin Hier.