President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence joined over 700 pastors on a conference call Friday to pray for strength and stamina amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
In a one-hour call organized by the Christian conservative activist group Family Research Council, Trump told pastors that the outbreak “came upon us so suddenly.”
“[W]e were doing better than we've ever done before as a country in terms of the economy — and then, all of the sudden, we got hit with this,” Trump was quoted as saying by FRC President Tony Perkins. “So we had to close it down.”
“We're actually paying a big price to close it down,” Trump continued. “Never happened before.”
However, Trump assured the religious leaders that he believes “we're going to come back stronger than ever before."
"I want to thank you for praying for our country and for those who are sick,” the president said. “You do such an incredible job. You're very inspirational people. And I'm with you all the way. You know that you see what we've done for right to life and all of the things that we've been working so hard together. I've been working with many of the people on the call. Many, many of the people. We've had tremendous support. But we are going to get over this."
Pence told the pastors that when he informed Trump that he was going to be on the call with pastors on Friday, Trump asked if he could join despite a full schedule.
"When I told the president I was going to be speaking to all of you, [he was] in the midst of an extraordinarily busy day. [But] he looked at me and said, 'I have to find time. I need to find time,’” Pence told the pastors. “[T]he prayers of the people on this call mean [everything] to him.”
Before leaving the call, Perkins asked the president what he’d most like people to pray for during this time of crisis and uncertainty. Trump replied by urging the pastors to pray for the “health” and “strength” of the country.
“We were doing something amazing, and then one day, it just ended. So that would be it,” Trump said, urging Americans to "make the right choice” on [election day], Nov. 3.
Pence told the pastors that he and the president “couldn't be more inspired by the way communities of faith have been stepping up.”
According to Perkins, Pence talked about how congregations are keeping their food banks going and finding ways to work within the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pence also thanked churches for offering child care to healthcare workers on the front line of battling the coronavirus.
"You know, the president has said many times that we are going to bring the full resources of our federal government to bear on this,” the vice president said. “But by all of you being here today, and by the energies and ministries that you have [used to respond] to the coronavirus in your communities, you're really putting hands and feet on your faith. And you are demonstrating what the president today called 'the greatness of American character.’”
Pence said that “we want a full partnership with you in sharing best practices again."
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also participated in the call. According to Perkins, Carson told the pastors that “God is merciful.”
"And we will get through this,” Carson assured, adding that this could be an opportunity for God to show His power in a way that will “help us return to Him.”
"God still has His hand on this nation,” Carson was quoted as saying. “And He has His hand on all of us."
According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, pastors discussed during the call ways in which churches can assemble during the coronavirus outbreak when so many of them have halted in-person worship services.
While several churches have moved services online, others have held “drive-in” worship services to maintain social distancing.
During the call, Trump, Pence and Carson encouraged churches to comply with federal guidelines. Pence thanked pastors for suspending their services during the outbreak and said that he would encourage Americans to continue giving to churches and ministries even though they may not be attending in person.
In a White House press briefing on Saturday, Pence formally urged Americans to continue giving to ministries during the outbreak.
On Tuesday, Trump drew criticism when he said that he wanted the U.S. to be "opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” which is just over two-and-a-half weeks away. However, some health experts have warned that more time may be needed to curb the spread of the virus.