Matt James forwent the traditional toast on night one, leading his contestants in prayer for a franchise first.
“Dear heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us all together healthy,” said James, after asking the women to bow their heads. “Give these women the courage to get through these next few months. You say that you work all things for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose father God and I feel like that’s why I’m here and I feel like that’s why these women are here, Lord. So bless this time we have together Father, in your holy name I pray. Amen.”
While the prayer appeared to be well-received by the women, it was met with both praise and criticism online. Some viewers felt the moment excluded or would be uncomfortable for non-Christian contestants.
When asked to respond during a recent interview on Bachelor Happy Hour, James said, “That’s the least of a gesture I could do for someone who sacrificed their life for me, so like if praying for a group of women is ever a bad thing then I don’t want to be a part of what’s good.”
As James explained to podcast hosts, former Bachelorettes Becca Kufrin and Rachel Lindsay, despite having months to prepare, he was nervous at the moment and turned to prayer as he often does. He credited his religion for giving him peace and a basis for his values.
“Like praying for someone, that’s a blessing to have someone praying for you,” said James. “It means they’re thinking about you, they’re caring about you. I care about all the women that were there and… I want them to be at peace.”
However, he made it clear religion is not necessarily a deterrent in his relationships. “My brother’s an atheist and I would die for him,” the real estate broker said. He added, “I’m not going to push religion on anybody, because guess what, you can’t. You can’t push anything on anybody.”
He continued, though, saying “That being said, if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, then like we’re just not meant to be with each other. But like I would never ostracize someone for not being and sharing my faith.”
Given his desire to connect with the contestants to find his future wife, James explained he hoped prayer would also humanize him so the women did not just see him as just the Bachelor.
The Prayer Was Met With Mixed Reactions
James’ choice to pray was met with a variety of responses online. Some thought, given that it was his search for love, it was appropriate to share his religion early in the season. As one Twitter user wrote, “He’s trying to find the person he loves and wants to share beliefs. I think this was a great idea because it’s his true self and gives the women the opportunity to leave. It was absolutely a good time to do it.”
However, others thought it put any contestant who did not share his beliefs in an uncomfortable situation. As another wrote, “What if one of them’s an atheist? What would one do? I’m agnostic. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. So I can only imagine an atheist in that situation.”
ABC Executive Rob Mills Was Surprised by the Backlash
“I didn’t expect [the prayer] to be such a hot-button [topic] of interest,” Mills told former Bachelor Nick Viall. “And I actually understand some of it, where it’s, ’What if this had been someone of a different domination?”
He continued, saying, “I have heard some say in a prayer, like, ‘Please either bow your head in the manner you’re accustomed or whatever.’ This is a guy, he just met 32 women. The fact that he didn’t tell people, like, ‘Hey, if this is not okay with you.’ I think he just was trying to … He truly didn’t make anyone uncomfortable.”