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Pastor Indicted Alongside Trump Returns to Pulpit

Rev. Stephen Lee
Stephen Lee’s mugshot. Photo courtesy of Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

(RNS) — A Lutheran pastor who is among the 18 people indicted alongside former President Donald Trump on charges of trying to interfere in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia returned to his pulpit on Sunday, preaching to the small Illinois congregation just days after his arrest.

The Rev. Stephen Lee, an emeritus Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor, was the last of the 19 defendants to surrender at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia. Lee appears in his mugshot wearing a clerical collar.

Lee preached Sunday at the Living Word Lutheran Church in Orland Park, a southwest Chicago suburb, where he is serving as an interim pastor. He did not directly discuss the arrest or indictment during the service, which was livestreamed on YouTube — but made veiled references to his situation.

RELATED: Pastor Indicted Alongside Trump in Georgia Election Meddling Case

He began the service by launching into an impromptu reading of a passage from the New Testament’s Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, which has become popular with prominent conservatives in recent years. The section Lee read calls on believers to “put on the full armor of God” in order to “struggle” against “rulers” and “the powers of this dark world.” Ephesians was not among the Bible lessons slated for Sunday’s services, according to the LCMS lectionary, the official schedule of readings.

Lee appeared to grow emotional as he read the passage’s conclusion: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.”

The pastor also appeared to allude to his arrest at the beginning of his sermon, when he praised the congregation and repeatedly thanked those in attendance who had prepared in case of his absence.

The Rev. Stephen Cliffgard Lee speaks at Living Word Lutheran Church in Orland Park, Ill., Aug. 13, 2023. Video screen grab

Lee was originally expected to remain in the Fulton County Jail after his surrender on Friday (Aug. 25), as he was initially unable to pay for a bond on his $75,000 bail. According to reports, Lee’s $7,500 bond was raised after podcaster and longtime Trump supporter Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, half of the onetime duo “Diamond and Silk,” urged listeners of her podcast to contribute.

Lee is alleged to have attempted to influence a Georgia election worker in December 2020, after Trump accused her and another election worker of election fraud. Police body camera footage shows Lee acknowledging that he knocked on the door of Ruby Freeman, prosecutors say, as part of a larger effort in which defendants “unlawfully conspired and endeavored to conduct and participate in criminal enterprise in Fulton County, Georgia, and elsewhere.”