In my Facebook feed this morning was a link to an article “Pray for the President”. While I am all for praying for our leaders, and is something I do, I was expecting a sting in the tail, which turned out to be the case, given the friend who posted it is no fan of President Trump and neither is Jim Wallis who wrote the article, and I quote:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. —1 Timothy 2:1-4
This is a scripture passage that’s been on my heart quite a bit this summer, really since Donald Trump took office in January 2017. On the surface, it seems challenging to reconcile this instruction to offer thanksgiving to God for Trump, whose tenure in the highest elected position in the United States (and perhaps the world) has been filled with so much amorality and cruelty to so many groups of vulnerable people that, in Matthew 25, Jesus calls us to protect. More to the point, the superficial reading of this text is what many Trump’s white evangelical defenders have attempted to weaponize in recent months to confer God’s seal of approval on President Trump and imply that Trump’s enemies are God’s enemies.
No incident captured the blasphemy and idolatry on display from the Religious Right as well as Franklin Graham’s proclamation in late May that June 2 would be a “Special Day of Prayer” for President Trump. It was not the notion in and of itself that Christians ought to pray for the president that was so deeply corrosive. Instead, it was the reasons Graham gave: “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency. In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God.”
The problem here, as it so often is on the Right and has been particularly evident since Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 2016, is that it gets the relationship between faith and politics precisely backward. Franklin Graham and the president’s other evangelical supporters are bringing their political preferences to God and asking God to bless their chosen leader with success over his political and legal adversaries. And they do this despite the abundant evidence that Trump’s character and policies violate essential tenets of Jesus’ ministry each and every day, including the command to love our neighbors as ourselves and the teaching that all human beings are created in God’s image and likeness, to name just two. Franklin Graham and his ilk have made a Faustian bargain to support a leader whose character and policies are in many ways anti-Christ in exchange for the opportunity to wield influence in national affairs and score political “wins” for people who look like they do and who share their ideological and religious identity.
Rather than bringing politics to our faith and subordinating the tenets of our faith to our political affiliation, we are called to start with our faith—with the teachings and person of Jesus Christ—and to bring that faith into our politics to shape our political beliefs and change our politics to better reflect God’s purposes for the world and for God’s children. In that context, the clear meaning of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that since God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” our prayer for all those in political leadership, including President Trump, should be that they would understand and follow God’s agenda, not the other way around”.
While I like to think I am my own man, of if feeling particularly holy, God’s man, those who know me would put me in the Franklin Graham camp rather than that of Jim Wallis. While I have issues with Wallis’ argument, which I will get to, I am not altogether unsympathetic. A couple of years ago I visited a church, which we sometimes attend when on holiday. As is my habit, I decided to check out their prayer wall for items of prayer. One was for Israel and a number of related matters, all of which place Israel and its leaders in a positive light and ignored injustices toward the Palestinians etc. My issue was I would feel uncomfortable praying a prayer that did not reflect my understanding of God’s will. To his credit, when I wrote to complain to the pastor, he was gracious in recognizing my concerns over this sensitive subject. I suspect other pastors would be less sympathetic and I sense churches even if they don’t admit it, are becoming more political (left and right).
Reading through the article, I do, however, take serious exception at accusations toward Graham and the Christian right of blasphemy and idolatry and am exasperated he plays to race baiting, using the term “white evangelical”. Rather than take exception at Grahams statement: “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency. In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God”, I support it and would even go further. While regarding Trump, there are matters of personality and policy I take exception toward, unlike with his pre-decessor who I saw as an instrument of the devil, I see Trump as an instrument of God’s righteous judgment on the America (and the world), and right now Trump is under extraordinary attack and, as with any in the position Trump is in, I pray for their protection.
I recognize we are a long way from seeing Jesus’ high priestly prayer for unity (John 17) in the Church being fulfilled and I can’t quite picture the oil running down Aaron’s beard any time soon. More is the pity as America like the UK (e.g. with Brexit) is in spiritual and everything else crisis right now, and we are finding ourselves in a comparable situation to that at the start of World War 2 when King George VI rightly called the nation to come together in prayer, and they did. Even so, to give Wallis credit along with that of many of my Christian Trump antipathetic friends, it is good they can pray according to 2Timothy 2:1-4. Sadly, if I had to chose whose prayer meeting I would attend, it would be Graham’s rather than Wallis’.