On Jan. 6, 2021, Rev. Jack Hibbs stood on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as Donald Trump held his rally and urged his supporters to head toward the U.S. Capitol. Unlike some pastors arrested for their actions that day, Hibbs says he didn’t go to the Capitol. But he did go in the building on Tuesday (Jan. 30). But it wasn’t a normal tourist visit; the California pastor was invited to the podium of the House of Representatives.
Although House Chaplain Margaret Kibben, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) minister, normally offers the daily prayer in the House chamber, sometimes a guest preacher is invited to do so. On Tuesday, it was Hibbs, a MAGAchurch pastor in California who preaches Republican politics and gained publicity by violating public health measures for mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. As is customary for official congressional prayers, Hibbs spoke at times not merely as an individual but on behalf of the government.
“Almighty God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, together we come before you,” Hibbs said as he spoke for the gathered lawmakers, some of whom belong to a different faith or no faith at all.
During his prayer, Hibbs placed his act in the tradition of “our fathers in this Congress” pausing daily to pray. Making clear his Christian Nationalistic vision, he called the U.S. Constitution God’s “great gift to all freedom-loving people” and “a beacon of hope to all who seek peace.” Baptizing the work of the U.S. House, Hibbs repeatedly invoked Jesus as he asked for God to direct the lawmakers to follow God’s will.
“Please come upon those here who are the stewards over the business of our nation with your wisdom which comes from above and with your holy fear knowing that your coming day of judgment draws near when all who have been and are now in authority will answer to you, the great judge of heaven and of Earth,” Hibbs prayed. “For the decisions that they make here in this place, I offer this prayer to you, Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and our crucified Savior and resurrected Lord. In Jesus’s name, amen.”
Hibbs’s prayer was more than just a fleeting religious moment. It was part of the official work of the House of Representatives, given from the podium and printed word for word in the Congressional Record that documents the business of Congress (and also aired live on C-SPAN for nerds like me). The sectarian, Christian Nationalistic prayer of an election-denying, law-breaking pastor was treated as part of the official work and words of our government.
How did Hibbs end up at the House rostrum Tuesday? Speaker Mike Johnson sponsored him.
Talking later that day to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (a Republican activist group that claims it’s a church in IRS filings), Hibbs said Johnson was the one who gave him the invite (and the House chaplain confirms that). Back on the day after the insurrection, Hibbs appeared on Perkins’s show and blamed the violence not on the pro-Trump mob but instead on “what you get when you eject God from the courts and from the schools.” He later declared during a Sunday sermon that President Joe Biden “needs to be facing court-martial” and “removed from office.” Now, he was honored in the House.
Although Johnson wasn’t presiding in the House chamber as Hibbs prayed this week, the two of them joined Perkins the next morning at the Museum of the Bible for an FRC event billed as a “National Gathering for Prayer and Repentance.” A couple dozen other Republican lawmakers also came on stage during the five-hour event, along with Christian pastors, activists, and attorneys. The rhetoric was quite revealing about the Christian Nationalistic vision of pastors like Hibbs who have the support of powerful politicians like Johnson. So this issue of A Public Witness takes you inside the “prayer and repentance” event.