Notably, GOP front runner Donald Trump was among the worshippers.
The Washington Post interpreted elements of her sermon as a direct criticism of Trump’s immigration policy: “Saturnia said ‘Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants’ should be welcomed rather than shunned by Americans,” the paper reports.
But a review of the video tape of Saturnia’s sermon yields a much more nuanced interpretation of her message.
Saturnia read from Luke, Chapter 4, verses 14 to 21, which tells of Jesus returning to preach to his home synagogue in Nazareth. After his initial remarks were well received, his subsequent comments turned his audience to rage.
“When Jesus described God’s care for foreigners and enemies, they tried to kill him,” Saturnia said, quoting theologian Bruce Epperly’s commentary on the passage.
“This congregation at Nazareth, this home town congregation, thought that the words Jesus spoke were for the people of Israel, and the people of Israel only,” she continued.
They don’t get that Jesus came for everyone, including the people of Israel, but not only the people of Israel,” Saturnia said of the passage.
Later in the sermon she said:
Jesus is teaching us today he has come for those outside the church. Jesus has come to bring news to the people we would least expect to be part of the church.
Jesus has come to proclaim freedom and healing to those who are the most unloved, the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world.
Jesus has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor on teenagers who are homeless, on Syrian refugees, on the Mexican migrants, on the people who find themselves prisoners of addiction and their families, on the poorest of the poor in Haiti.
Jesus has come for them, Jesus has come for everyone.
Yes he has come to give these very gifts to us. He has given them to us, dear friends, but not only us.
And instead of feeling rage at Jesus that we have to share him, we are called to do just that.
Share Jesus with the ones who need him, regardless of who they are.
The Trump campaign declined comment to Breitbart News. The Washington Post reported “[l]ater in the morning, Trump told reporters that the sermon did not sway him.”
Trump offered a more extended comment on a reading by a congregant on the topic of humility, as the Post reported:
[H]e was intrigued by the reading of 1 Corinthians 12 and an accompanying speech by a woman in the congregation about humility.
“I heard that. I wonder if that was for me,” Trump told reporters. “They didn’t even know I was coming, so I doubt it. But it was an appropriate phrase. . . . Humility. Perhaps she had something in mind.”
He added: “I have more humility than people think.”
Trump rocked the political world in December when he called for a temporary ban on all Muslim migration into the United States, in light of the Islamist terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 innocent Americans.
Virtually all (an estimated 97 percent) of the more than 2,000 Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the United States over the past several years are Muslims.
The Washington Post reported on the unique elements of Trump’s participation in Sunday’s services in Muscatine:
Unlike most Trump events that are covered live on cable television, Trump’s morning visit was documented by a small group of print reporters and photographers who were invited by the campaign. As he entered the church, Trump was asked about what his faith meant to him and he replied, “A lot.”
Trump joined about 100 churchgoers, taking a seat in the fifth row. He sat next to Debra Whitaker, 59, a supporter and the mother of Dustin Whitaker, an Iowa National Guard member and Purple Heart recipient who was killed in a 2012 motorcycle accident after serving in Iraq.
During the hour-long service, Trump clasped his hands in prayer, nodded along as an elderly organist played songs of praise, and traced his finger along a paper pamphlet. During the offering of peace, Trump grasped hands and said, “Peace be with you” to a dozen people who approached him. When a young girl asked him for a selfie as well as a handshake, he paused for a moment but then bowed down and obliged, flashing a grin before he returned to his seat in the wooden aisle.
First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine administrative assistant Kristin Sprague tells Breitbart News Rev. Dr. Saturnia will not be responding to any press inquiries about Sunday’s services. Breitbart News did not receive a response to an email sent to Saturnia requesting comment.
The church’s Facebook page, which posted a YouTube video of the sermon, noted that it had obtained “national attention.”
Sprague tells Breitbart News that the church learned Trump would be in attendance at 9 am, and that services began an hour and fifteen minutes later at 10:15.
When asked if Rev. Saturnia altered the content of her sermon when she learned Trump would be in attendance, Sprague responded “no comment.”
When asked if Deborah Whitaker, the 59-year-old Trump supporter who sat next to him during the services was a member of the congregation, Sprague told Breitbart News “not that I am aware of.”
“It was different,” David Schuler, a retired school counselor and deacon at the First Prebyterian Church of Muscatine, tells Breitbart News of Sunday’s service attended by Trump.
“There was a few Secret Service,” he says of the security precautions.
“It’s not every day you have a presidential candidate in your church,” he adds.
Breitbart News asked Saturnia if she altered the content of her sermon to include the reference to Syrian refugees after she learned Trump would be in attendance via email, but has not received a response.
Breitbart News also asked Saturnia if she spoke with Trump after the service, if she had a party affiliation, and if she intended to participate in a party’s caucus events next Monday, but did not receive a response to those questions either.
Finally, Breitbart News asked Saturnia to confirm or deny that she was the same Pamela S. Saturnia from Muscatine, Iowa, employed by a church, who, according to Federal Election Commission records, donated $248.95 to a PAC called America Coming Together in 2004, but received no response.
As the Washington Post reported in 2005, this George Soros financed PAC was closed down in that year due to campaign finance violations:
A year ago, the liberal group America Coming Together was on the cutting edge of national politics, spending tens of millions of dollars on a massive voter-mobilization project in every presidential battleground state.
The dream was that ACT — heavily funded by billionaire George Soros — would play a decisive role in getting Democratic nominee John F. Kerry elected president and then remain in business as a permanent force in liberal politics.
Instead, the group this week began sending e-mails to most of the 28 people who make up the remaining ACT staff warning that their paychecks would stop at the end of August. All the state offices have been, or are soon to be, closed.
The news represented a long fall for ACT and its sister group, the Media Fund. The groups had attracted such Democratic heavyweights as former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, Emily’s List founder Ellen Malcolm and Service Employees International Union President Andrew L. Stern.
The architect of ACT was Steve Rosenthal, who had won his spurs as political director of the AFL-CIO and by 2003 was determined to build a liberal voter-mobilization organization that would be independent of the Democratic Party, labor unions or other traditional interest groups.
Politico reported the record $775,000 fine imposed on America Coming Together in 2007:
The Federal Election Commission has fined one of the last cycle’s biggest liberal political action committees $775,000 for using unregulated soft money to boost John Kerry and other Democratic candidates during the 2004 elections.
America Coming Together (ACT) raised $137 million for its get-out-the-vote effort in 2004, but the FEC found most of that cash came through contributions that violated federal limits.
The group’s big donors included George Soros, Progressive Corp. chairman Peter Lewis and the Service Employees International Union.
The settlement, which the FEC approved unanimously, is the third largest enforcement penalty in the commission’s 33-year history.
ACT, which ceased operations in 2005, was formed in late 2003 and rapidly deployed an enormous organization to do the retail-level grunt work of politics.
Saturnia, a 1991 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, has a D.Min in preaching from McCormick Theological Seminary, has been pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine, Iowa, a city a population of 23,000 on the west bank of the Mississippi River, since 2013. She served the same church as an associate pastor from 1991 to 2004.