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Concerns Raised About Faith Leaders at Rose Garden Event, After 8 Attendees Test Positive for COVID

By Julie Roys
paula white, Jerry Prevo, Jentezen franklin, Skip Heitzig
Several faith leaders smile for a picture at the Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday. In the background (left to right) are televangelist Jentezen Franklin, Acting Liberty University President Jerry Prevo, and Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque. In the foreground are Cissie Graham Lynch, Franklin Graham's daughter, and Paula White, head of the White House Faith & Opportunity Initiative.

Now that eight people who attended the Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday for Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett have tested positive for COVID-19, concerns are being raised about the faith leaders who attended the event.

One of the faith leaders—Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA)—sat next to the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame University, at the ceremony.

Rev. Jenkins is one of eight attendees who tested positive for COVID-19 this week and has been criticized by Notre Dame students and faculty for not following social distancing protocols at the event. (Most of the approximately 150 people attending the Rose Garden ceremony did not wear masks and sat close together.)

Yet according to Mark Barber, a spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA, Graham tested negative for COVID this week before a trip to Alaska. 

Barber added that Graham’s daughter, Cissie Graham Lynch, who sat next to him at the ceremony, is in “great health,” but didn’t comment on whether she had been tested for COVID.

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Franklin Graham Jenkins
Franklin Graham is seated next to Notre Dame President John Jenkins at Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday. (Video Screengrab)

In addition to attending the Rose Garden ceremony, Graham also led the Washington Prayer March with thousands of participants last Saturday. However, the prayer march was held prior to the 5:00 p.m. Rose Garden event.

Also at the ceremony, directly behind Graham and Rev. Jenkins, was Jerry Prevo, acting president of Liberty University. Prevo also participated in the prayer march along with more than 2,200 Liberty University students.

Prevo tweeted Friday night that many had asked about his health since visiting President Trump at the White House on Saturday. Prevo said both he and his wife had just tested negative for COVID-19.

Less is known about the condition of other faith leaders who were at the event and sitting in close proximity to Rev. Jenkins.

This includes Paula White, who heads the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative and Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board.

White was slated to speak at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority 2020” conference in Atlanta earlier this week but did not do so, according to Religion News Service.

I reached out to White for comment, but did not get a response by time of publishing.

Also slated to speak at the “Road to Majority 2020” conference was Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Lankford was not at the Rose Garden ceremony but had several meetings this week with Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who was another one of the eight people at the ceremony who tested positive for COVID this week.

The others who tested positive for COVID were President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump; Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president; Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina; Former N.J. Governor Chris Christie; and an unnamed journalist.

Lankford said when he learned of Senator Lee’s diagnosis, he left the faith conference and drove home. Today, Lankford announced that his test for COVID had come back negative, but said he would still quarantine.

Both Ralph Reed, who heads the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and televangelist Jentezen Franklin, pastor of the Georgia megachurch Free Chapel, also attended the Rose Garden ceremony and  subsequently spoke at the “Road to Majority 2020” conference.

I reached out to Reed for comment about his health but did not hear back.

Franklin, however, posted a video on Twitter today, saying that he not only had attended the Rose Garden event, but had prayed with President Trump beforehand. Yet Franklin said he learned today that his COVID test had come back negative, and encouraged his church family to join him at services on Sunday.

Mike Pence, who has tested negative for COVID, also spoke at the “Road to Majority 2020” conference.

Other high-profile faith leaders at the Rose Garden event include Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church; Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary Church of Albuquerque; Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Attempts to reach these men was not immediately successful.

Rose Garden guests
Picture of guests at Rose Garden event, many of whom are faith leaders. Circled are Melania Trump and Rev. John Jenkins, who tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Gary Bauer, president of American Values, attended the Rose Garden event, as well.

I talked with a spokesperson with American Values to confirm Bauer’s attendance and to inquire about his condition. She said someone would get back to me, but at time of publishing, no one has.

UPDATE: On Sunday, Calvary Church of Albuquerque said in an email that Pastor Skip Heitzig was tested last Saturday at the White House and his test came back negative. He was tested again since President Trump’s announcement of a positive result. And on Monday, the church said the second test came back negative. Pastor Heitzig reportedly feels great and is not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.



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45 Responses

  1. I have been praying for the President and the First Lady, as well as others who attended the conference. I also pray that they will understand that COVID-19 is real, potentially deadly, and that wearing a mass and social distancing are the best way to combat it. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard the virus had hit the White House. It’s what happens when you ignore common sense and science.

    1. There is a person in a blue mask in one photo and 3 wearing masks in a far back left of another. But yeah, most of them aren’t.

  2. I cannot even read the rest of this article… Social distancing is not even in one past medical journal, not in one medical book! What has happened to our country?

    Goodness gracious.. this virus is small enough to pass through all the masks except that which is used by medical professionals. God did NOT give us a spirit of fear but of sound mind!

    Be secure in Him and Him only.

    1. But it sure was in practice during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. It was the only way they flattened the curve. Unbelievable.

      1. That’s hilarious! Flattened the curve? No one talked like that in 1918. The masks did nothing other than cover the stench. The pandemic ran its course – 50 M died. The Spanish flu is a gross outlier compared to all the other pandemics that followed (in fact each pandemic following the Spanish flu was less lethal than the one before it – Peter Doshi, WHO, 2008). If a pandemic is measured on the basis of a death rate compared to the Spanish flu, then COVID shouldn’t even be considered a pandemic, but comparable to a common flu season. Medical journals are now attributing bacterial infections in the lungs with lack of antibiotics were the main cause of death in 1918. This was a WWI pandemic. Do you know what the soldiers were being vaccinated with right before this pandemic? But there couldn’t be a causal relationship between the vaccinations and Spanish flu could there? Read the medical journals prior to 2019 you’ll discover that cloth masks do not prevent viral contagion. That is why universally WHO, CDC, FDA, Surgeon General, Fauci all recommended at the beginning not to wear a mask unless you are sick. Masks will not prevent viral contagion. Common knowledge. Until this all became political. But that is another story. Oh and OSHA does not consider cloth masks as PPE, because PPE is regulated by OSHA and you must be medically tested and fitted to wear PPE according to the nature of the hazard. So why are you wearing a mask? Oh, viruses travel on droplets. I can’t even go there. That is too ridicules to even comment on. I know, that is what you are being told. But that is not real science. You will need to self educate because you are not getting the truth from reporters.

        1. D, Your comment is a chaotic mess of false information, misattribution, lack of logic, and unfounded conclusions.

          I’m not going to take the time to go through it point by point, but no one who comes across it should consider it in any way credible.

          1. Lea, of course you can’t and I don’t care. There are those who snub the truth and follow comfortably in the mainstream herd mentality. And there are those who can think independently in spite of dismissive people who can say nothing but, You’re wrong! So there!

        2. D! Way to bring the truth! So true, love the historical perspective. Can’t believe people actually think now that a mask protects you from getting it! What changed in the mask science since March? Nothing at all, wake up people! And If your a Christian and your promoting this media hyped fear, you didn’t get the memo of All of scripture, “be not afraid!”

    2. “this virus is small enough to pass through all the masks”

      The Virus doesn’t travel alone, J. It travels in an aerosolized droplet, which IS large enough to be stopped by most masks. Perhaps not perfectly, but a mask limits the AMOUNT of virus that is transmitted, and it is widely known that the AMOUNT of exposure affects whether or not a person catches the disease and also the severity of their case.

      God gives us a sound mind, and tells us to seek wise counsel, study to show ourselves approved, and do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

      Please educate yourself before you endanger yourself and others through your willful ignorance.

      1. Yes, Lea you have all the time in the world after you have commented on every single post haha. You go ahead and trust “social distancing” that was the idea of a 14 year old girl and then shame people who don’t wear a mask or distance themselves. Unreal. Covid arbitrary 19 has been a “moving of the goal post” fiasco and any honest person can admit it. You are not the authority here. Go ahead and keep wearing that mask in your car and the fresh air and then claim your on the side of “science.” And “the new normal” by the way is a Marxist term as well, so keep wagging your finger at the level headed people out there.

  3. Unfortunately Christians in the USA – especially in large group settings – have developed a reputation for not wearing masks and not social distancing.

    Not cool

  4. This is my last read of Roys. The bias of this reporter has slid too left from truth. Not worth the read anymore. There are better reporters to follow. Unsubscribing.

    1. i think the problem is that the right has moved so far to the right that what is moderate is now something to be scared and angry about.

    2. Oh please. I am a liberal, and while I appreciate and respect Julie’s investigative reporting, never in a million years would I mistake her for being a fellow liberal, or moderate, even. She’s as conservative as any conservative evangelical I have met in my time.

      I understand it’s never easy to put aside personal prejudice when attempting to judge the veracity of a journalistic source, but seriously, there’s not one word of commentary in Julie’s piece, not one word of judgment. It’s just a straight up reporting on what must be on the minds of many given that eight people have already caught Covid-19 at that one event in the middle of a pandemic that has already taken 200,000 American lives.

      Clearly, you’re just mad at Julie for some reason and you were just looking for an easy excuse to criticize. If throwing unwarranted accusations of bias at her makes you feel better, that’s your problem, not hers.

  5. It’s like not wearing a condom and later praying to God no one got pregnant. Grow up. This is insane. I’m appalled and disgusted to say they represent Jesus Christ!

    1. In video footage of the event, Bill Barr visibly wipes his nose right before he shakes Franklin Graham’s hand.

      SMH at these people.

  6. On the rare occasions a human being penetrates my loneliness they sit 6 ft from me. I don’t like people jostling me in the street and never did. This garden party didn’t look a very important event, but perhaps they had a bit of spare room to spread out into. Whilst perhaps covid appears quickly in some people, check the rest of them out in about six weeks. More effort should be made to offer antiviral medicine to cases with chronic damage and slow recovery. Why isn’t it? In Britain most churches and shops had a safe reopening plan by mid May and the government rubbished that. Why? Yours so moderately that you’ve got to get ultra scared and angry, CJ.

    1. I don’t know the history of the church reopening plans in the UK, but I do know the lockdown was a lot tighter over there than in the UK, so i suspect churches weren’t being singled out for tougher treatment than any other indoor gathering place.

      There is also the issue that the average age of congregations in the UK is significantly older than in the US, meaning that many attendees are higher risk should they catch the virus. I know my parent’s church’s average age must be well into the 60s. Service have started again, with a limited sized congregation depending on the size of the church and ability to social distance, though unfortunately my parents won’t be attending yet as they’re 90 years old and my father in particular would be unlikely to survive a serious infection.

  7. Let me get this straight. You’ve got a knucklehead POTUS who is suppose to lead us, disregarding the world’s top medical doctors by not wearing his mask and religious leaders following him! You also have maybe millions following these ‘religious leaders.’ How many people, who have followed these knuckleheads, will end up with the virus? I think I’ll just follow my Bible and not the knuckleheads!

    1. The irony if that if these “religious leaders” get COVID they’ll be well taken care of, and given all the privileges of celebrity. Maybe even get admitted to a hospital merely as a “precaution”.

      But their followers will have to take their chances at home.
      They don’t have access to daily tests.
      If they fall ill they won’t get access to Remdesivir or Regeneron.
      Not a one of these false prophets who minimize COVID will visit them when they are sick.

      And not a one of these self-designated “religious leaders” will remember or care that someone who once sent them money died alone.

      Shame, shame on these charlatans.


      1. Pray for them and the followers, Lea. Yes I get why you feel bitter, but it is prayer that will move and change their hearts.

        1. I’m not bitter, Sabrina, but I am very aware that “bitterness” is often used as an accusation against those who would criticize religious leaders (a remnant of the discredited authoritarian teachings of Bill Gothard).

          Perhaps you did not mean it in this way. Nevertheless, it is good to be aware of the misuse of this word in Christian circles.

          1. I didn’t mean it as an accusation. Thank you for clarifying. And I got no problem with religious leaders being put to task. Or criticizing them. I welcome the shaking of the Church.

            I’m honing in on words you use like “charlatan” and “false prophets” and “self-designated” ‘religious leader’”.

            Words with an angry, critical tone…

            Can you accurately make the claim “not one of these leaders will remember or care someone who sent them money died alone.”?

            Not everyone who gets covid dies of it. Maybe some of the leaders in that crowd who got sick are legit. Maybe God will use that sickness to sanctify some of them.

            Just wondering what is behind your seeming criticism.

  8. Father God, in the midst of it all, I pray for the recovery of our President and First lady, and all others who may begin to show symptoms in the coming days. O God allow us to use wisdom to protect ourselves and others in the midst of this pandemic. It is REAL and still hovers among us.
    In the NAME POWER and AUTHORITY of JESUS our Great PHYSICIAN by His Spirit, AMEN Amen.

  9. Why do we need an article about “faith leaders” when previous articles advised to stop elevating these leaders? This just contributes to the idea that these “leaders” are indeed special. Furthermore, where people got Covid is just speculation. A veteran’s care home in Missouri just had an outbreak with 14 cases and previously had had zero. Hmmm, maybe there’s a story there…Nope. Not likely.

    1. Where did you get that idea?

      Many countries have been able to remain at extremely low rates of infection in their population. (Taiwan, for example, has seen only 22 cases per million of population)

      Sadly, the US is not one of those (23,033 cases per million of population).

      Even if we are forced towards herd immunity (or “herd mentality”, according to Trump) through the incompetence and irresponsibility of our leaders, it will be achieved when roughly 70% of the population has been infected…not 100%.

      1. LEA, it’s silly to compare Taiwan to the US. They are a populace that is mainly Chinese oriented and are used to restrictions. We have a open society. They also have had experience of major outbreaks like SARS recently to draw on. Greenland hasn’t had any deaths, why did Taiwan have so many? source:

        The incompetence in the US has been at the governor’s level. Did you see the difference between FL and NY? Same population but NY is 3800 deaths /MG and FL is 287. President Trump cut off travel between China and the US and Europe and the US. That had never been done before. President Trump and private groups like Samaritans Purse provided hospital beds and ventilators for NY patients that never were used by their governor. The question is why?

        1. You don’t appear to know much about the differences in Taiwanese and Chinese culture, Mike. They are not the same.

          And I have no idea where you are getting your statistics. Here as well you are comparing things that are not the same.

          You cited worldometer; according to their count:

          NY has 1712 deaths per million population and Florida has 685 deaths per million population.
          It is well known that New York’s contagion began long before Florida’s because they are a major point of entry for travelers from all over the world, not just China or Europe.

          This is easily seen by looking at the data in the context of time.

          New York’s deaths peaked on April 9 and by the end of September (four months later) had precipitously declined to 90% of that peak, though it has ticked back up since then which is why they have adopted new restrictions.

          In contrast, Florida deaths peaked on August 11. A month later, they are less than 50% off the peak, and are largely plateaued.

          At that trend line, they will catch up to New York within the next two months.

          The conclusions from the data are nowhere near as simple as you have portrayed them.

          That’s why we should thank God that we have people like epidemiologists–who have studied to show themselves approved–as wise counsel during a public health crisis.

          I would suggest you listen to them rather than the politicians.

          1. LEA, I’ll pass on taking suggestions from someone who wants to compare the US to Taiwan.

  10. This is for all the intercessors. Pray for our leaders and this country and for the healing of President Trump. We are at an hour when God wants the Church to arise. And the “corona” virus might be trying to crown 2020 but Christ is the King and we proclaim that over this year and this country. And may He dissipate the Virus and let His Kingdom come as the church heeds the call to pray.

    White House Watchman

    1. Pray for the grieving families of the over 207,000 Americans dead from COVID on President Trump’s watch, and for those who have suffered grievous loss from the over 1,000,000 deaths worldwide.

      Pray for the many leaders across the globe who are seeking to guide their countries wisely through the pandemic, with caution and consideration for the vulnerable “least of these”.

      Pray that reckless leaders who act with wanton disregard for God-breathed human life would change their ways.

      Pray for the healing of the 7.7 million active cases worldwide.

      Pray for the healing of the 2.5 million people in the United States with active cases of COVID at this very moment.

      1. Right. These are things to pray for.
        And let us also pray:

        -Let us also pray for the healing of deep divisions between Americans and people worldwide.
        -Let us pray for the endurance and thriving of persecuted believers who are enduring extra hardships because of the virus.
        -Let us pray that God will use this Pandemic as a refiner’s fire to awaken the Church into the spotless Bride he wants her to be, press in and awaken, O Church.

  11. Well written and very fair, Julie.

    I pray that someday the Christian community will respond to an article such as this with prayer for the people affected and potentially affected. That what I was hoping to see following this article. Instead we have pointing fingers with a not so subtle hint of “I told you so” sprinkled in. Even the instructions to pray are ridden with politics. It’s not a surprise that those who don’t believe often want nothing to do with those of us who claim to follow Jesus.

    1. I see what you’re saying. And I know I can definitely respond with more prayer, especially for the unity of the church, because I’m saddened by all the different divisions I’m seeing and all the fear people are under. It wasn’t my intent to have a political tone with my call to pray. I linked to the White House watchmen video because it encouraged me, and I hope to share it with others who might be encouraged by it too. Thank you.

  12. Why do I get the impression that some of you are hoping one of these leaders die so you can say “told you so” or “you reap what you sow”? And what if no one does? What will you do?

  13. Not a good idea to invite so many people that they were squished close together. I get that it was an outdoor location and that people who get near the President are normally tested but still it’s not a good idea to crowd chairs closely together.

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