The Rev. Jentezen Franklin, pastor of a Gainesville megachurch, said he was “absolutely honored” to have President Donald Trump watch his livestreamed service on Sunday.
It all began with a Saturday morning call from the White House.
White House officials reached out and said Trump wanted to know if "it be OK if he could mention us (on Twitter) and tune in because he felt it was vital that people's spirits, souls and hearts be lifted and encouraged," said Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel church in a telephone interview hours after the service. "People are so worried and afraid and naturally so."
Franklin, 57, is a best-selling author and has a popular television program, “Kingdom Connection.” His church has eight campuses in three states - California, Georgia and South Carolina with more than 26,000 members.
Many churches livestreamed their services or tweaked religious practices because of the coronavirus, such as giving elbow bumps instead of handshakes or not taking communion.
Franklin said he didn’t alter his sermon because he knew Trump was watching.
“It felt like the right message at the right time,” said Franklin.
Trump also designated Sunday a National Day of Prayer.
Franklin’s message focused on choosing faith over fear.
He preached that it’s OK for people to have a healthy fear when faced with a crisis or the unknown, but it was also important to remember that God promised that “ I am with you.”
He said he later got confirmation from the White House that Trump actually did watch the service.
Franklin said he has met Trump several times and — along with other evangelical pastors — has prayed with him.
One such meeting was before Trump because the Republican nominee.
“I had no intention of supporting him, to be honest,” said Franklin.
He said they met with Trump for two hours. He wanted to know what issues were important to evangelicals.
Related: More churches livestream services because of coronavirus
He recalled Trump saying that “I don’t understand you evangelicals. You have the largest voting bloc in the nation and you don’t unify for anything. We realized he was absolutely right. We left there that day and something happened.”
White evangelical voters were key to Trump’s victory in 2016.
It’s not known whether Trump will watch again.
The church is taking it one day at a time on when they will return to in-person services.
He said he was most concerned about the elderly and single parents, who may not have the resources to buy weeks worth of provisions.
“It’s time for the church to lead.”