Paula White started out by giving thanks.
White, President Trump’s evangelical spiritual adviser, took center stage Tuesday night to give the opening prayer before the president announced his bid for re-election in front of thousands of supporters at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. She asked the crowd to join hands, and after a few minutes, interrupted her prayer to speak to the crowd instead of God, like an actress breaking the fourth wall.
“Now, I need you to really go with me here,” she said to a cheering crowd.
“Right now, let every demonic network who has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken, let it be torn down in the name of Jesus!” she prayed. She added: “I declare that President Trump will overcome every strategy from hell and every strategy from the enemy – every strategy – and he will fulfill his calling and his destiny.”
White didn’t say what demonic networks and enemies Trump was up against.
The dramatic prayer would be par for the course at a rally infused with disdain for Trump’s list of stated enemies – media, Democrats, the usual suspects – and punctuated with unwavering support for the president’s agenda.
White’s appearance fit that theme. The wealthy televangelist, controversial in Christian circles, has ratcheted up support among evangelicals for the president’s hard-line immigration policies and used her Facebook following of more than 3 million to champion the idea that God has blessed Trump’s plans. On Tuesday, as Trump rehashed his 2020 vision by renewing calls for mass deportation, White’s messaging echoed the campaign.
“I declare that no weapon formed against (Trump), his family, his calling, his purpose, this counsel will be able to be formed,” White said in her opening prayer.
As The Washington Post Magazine reported in a 2017 profile of White, it’s unclear how much influence she wields on the president as his spiritual adviser, which is not an official title. But Trump’s associates and family members confirmed that the two have enjoyed a close relationship. She told the magazine they connected after Trump called her up out of the blue to tell her he saw some of her sermons on television, allegedly saying she had the “it” factor.
She would go on to lead a White House evangelical advisory council and give Trump’s inauguration prayer. And from there, she defended him through tumultuous crises, such as the public outrage over his administration’s policy of separating immigrant families.
Some political or religious leaders have looked to the Bible to justify that policy. White offered a hypothetical situation involving Jesus’ immigration status.
“I think so many people have taken biblical scriptures out of context on this, to say stuff like, ‘Well, Jesus was a refugee,’ ” White told the Christian Broadcasting Network in July 2018. “And yes, he did live in Egypt for three and a half years. But it was not illegal. If he had broke the law, then he would have been sinful and he would not have been our Messiah.”
The Rev. William Barber II, a prominent pastor and civil rights leader based in North Carolina, responded by saying, “Christian nationalists” like White are “enabling injustice (with) biblical interpretations that echo #SlaveHolderReligion.”
Her embrace of Trump’s immigration policies is not the only reason she has become a divisive figure among Christians. She’s also a proponent of “prosperity gospel,” which teaches that those who devote themselves to God and donate toward religious causes will be rewarded with material wealth and spiritual health on Earth.
As The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer reported in 2016, some Christians associate prosperity gospel with heresy, troubled by the often aggressive solicitation of donations from televangelists who teach it. White, for example, encouraged her followers in January 2018 to donate one month’s salary (as she does) or a more manageable amount to Paula White Ministries. She said they would reap God’s rewards if they did make a large donation but risk God’s “consequences” if they didn’t.
Paula White Ministries was one of several television ministries that was the subject of a 2007 congressional investigation into misuse of church donations and lavish spending, although the report made no findings three years later.
White’s appeal to God on Tuesday night was not the first time she’s used such language. In May, she declared “every demonic network to be scattered right now” while speaking at the White House for the National Day of Prayer. Speaking from the pulpit earlier this month, she prayed God would defend him from “any demonic attack” on the “special day of prayer” for the president, organized by the Rev. Franklin Graham.
White stepped down last month as senior pastor at her megachurch, City of Destiny in Apopka, Florida, to pursue a goal of opening 3,000 churches and a university. Her son succeeded her.