CLEVELAND (Christian Examiner) – A black pastor from South Carolina who has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement drew wild cheers and tears from the audience at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as he prepared to offer the evening's benediction July 18.
Mark Burns, pastor of Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, S.C., was one of 50 black ministers who threw their support behind Donald Trump as it became clear he was the Republican frontrunner and when the New York billionaire was criticized for his poorly-formed explanations of what it means to be a Christian.
"I'm gonna pray and I'm gonna give the benediction. You know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ," Burns said to the cheer of the crowd.
"And Republicans, we've got to be united because our enemy is not of the Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party," Burns continued.
The pastor's comments brought the convention floor to its feet. Several people could be seen crying, while others stood with arms folded and expressionless, revealing a still deep division between the Trump and Never Trump parties in the convention.
During the prayer, Burns said he was "thankful for the life of Donald Trump."
"[I'm] thankful that you are guiding him, giving him the words to unite this party, this county, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party that keeps us divided and not united because we are the United States of America. And we are the conservative party, under God, to defeat every attack that comes against us," Burns said.
He also asked God to protect Trump and to give him "the power and authority to be the next president of the United States."
Burns is a relative unknown, which makes his appearance on the platform more astonishing. He was preceded by actor Scott Baio, Duck Dynasty CEO and reality TV star Willie Robertson, Gov. Rick Perry and Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. He will also give an address to the convention Thursday night.
TIME filmed a short documentary on Burns just prior to the convention. "Meet Donald Trump's Top Pastor" profiles Burns' interracial marriage and his ministry, run out of a small house in rural Easley.
In it, Burns expressed shock that Trump had asked him to participate in his campaign. He asked the candidate what he wanted him to do, and Trump reportedly said, "I want you to do what you do."
"He is a billionaire from New York City. He could have taken anybody under his wing," Burn said.
Trump has shown "over and over and over again how he is willing to give people, the least likely people, the opportunity to prove themselves," Burns said.
When asked about Trump's past in the video, the minister said he didn't want "a leader who just presents to me their resume, because the resume has all the good stuff on there. I want a leader who will lead me who has a record. They have a jail record. They have a record that says I messed up, I messed up, I messed up, but I overcame, I overcame, I overcame."
Burns cited Trump's move from a pro-choice position on abortion to a pro-life stance and the businessman's three failed marriages. He said Trump, in spite of being married three times, has "proven to be a powerfully effective father."
"When I see him I see the message of grace," Burns said.
Burns was also critical of the Black Lives Matter movement in the video. He said he is not personally a "champion of black people."
"That's why I don't compare myself to Dr. King. He was a champion of the African American communities. It frustrates me that the black community – one of the minority that suffers the most – is consistently voting for the same people who position them to be there," Burns said.
Trump is the solution for all minorities, he said, adding that President Barack Obama had also been divisive on the issue of race in America.
"There wouldn't be a hashtag blue lives matter if there wasn't one for Black Lives Matter. Seems like a black life only matters when killed by a white cop," Burns said.
Burns said his selection as a speaker on behalf of Donald Trump made him feel like Esther in the Bible, appointed "for such a time as this."
"My hope for November is Donald Trump, we're going to the White House. I'm going to give the inaugural prayer," Burns said.
Partisan prayers usually are not given at political conventions and, in this case, the mention of Clinton and the Democrats as "the enemy" may have been a first.