March 19, 2020

We’re unplugging everything. We’re going back to the raw gospel.

When Pastor Jentezen Franklin preached to the empty sanctuary of Free Chapel, an independent evangelical megachurch in Gainesville, Georgia, on Sunday (March 15), he knew President Donald Trump was watching online.

On the day the president proclaimed as the “National Day of Prayer for all Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for our National Response Efforts,” Trump tweeted his thanks to Franklin for “a great and beautiful service.”

Franklin, 57, a member of Trump’s group of unofficial evangelical advisers, estimated he has met with the president on 15-20 occasions. Besides overseeing Free Chapel, which draws some 25,000 to its eight locations from South Carolina to California, Franklin is the host of “Kingdom Connection,” a weekly television broadcast. On Sunday, he played “Amazing Grace” on his alto saxophone before he preached.

Franklin talked to Religion News Service on Tuesday about preaching during a pandemic, advising administration officials on how faith leaders can be among “first responders,” and supporting Trump amid criticism of his handling of the crisis.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Did you know before the president tweeted that he was going to watch your church service on Sunday?

I didn’t know until Saturday morning. I did get a phone call from the White House and they said that he was looking to do it and were we open to it. And I said, absolutely, we’d be honored. I had to catch a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. So when I landed that night, he had tweeted in between and the flight didn’t have any Wi-Fi. So when I turned my phone on, it was crazy. My phone lit up.

You preached on the theme “Choose faith over fear.” What can people of faith do to reduce anxiety?

The point is, you’re either going to live a fear-based life or a faith life, especially in times like these. The Bible was written in times like these, for times like these. If we feed our fears, it’s going to win the fight. But if we choose to feed our faith, this is a time for families to go back to the Bible. It’s prayer time in America. It’s time, as we’re quarantined basically with our families, maybe parents need to have old-fashioned devotions again. Maybe people need to open up and tell Bible stories of how David faced a giant in his life too, just like we’re facing.