The two virtues in perhaps the shortest supply in American political discourse are grace and faith. The lack of grace is on exhibit every day in social media and every moment when the outrage mobs come. Every transgression must be punished, and every punishment must far outweigh the gravity of the crime.
The lack of faith is in many ways more subtle. It underlies the decision of many Christians to abandon clear and unequivocal biblical commands — as if the Bible’s dictates are just not quite up to the urgency of the times. Let’s take, for example, the odd recent controversy surrounding prayers for President Trump. David Platt, pastor of Virginia’s McLean Bible Church, came under fire when he publicly prayed a thoroughly nonpartisan prayer for Trump when Trump stopped by, unannounced, on Memorial Day weekend.
Then, yesterday, the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart published a scathing essay condemning entirely the very idea of praying for the president. His target was Franklin Graham’s recent call to set aside June 2 as “special day of prayer” for Trump. While it’s true there were risible elements to Graham’s call — for example, it contained a claim that “in the history of our country, no president has been attacked as [Trump] has” — Capehart went well beyond critiquing that statement and attacked the very idea of praying for a man like Donald Trump.
He said, “Prayers for the powerful at the expense of the powerless, especially when the powerful in question is Trump, strike me as immoral” and endorsed instead a strategy of Christian confrontation. After detailing many of Trump’s sins, Capehart writes that “the proper response by clergy isn’t to pray for the man responsible for this assault on our values. The proper response is to issue a call to conscience to faith leaders to march on the White House.” His concluding paragraph contains this unequivocal statement: “With our Constitution at risk and our values on the line, praying for Trump is the last thing we should be doing.”
Capehart however, not only asks Christians to directly defy Scripture, he creates a false choice. The choice isn’t between praying or confrontation. One can pray and confront. Sycophancy is a sin. Christian leaders should confront earthly rulers who commit unjust acts. But lack of charity is a sin also. So is lack of faith.
The Apostle Paul was unequivocal in his directions to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Like it or not, Trump is a man in authority. This verse applies.
And why pray? Looking beyond the simple matter of obedience, there is a deeper truth. The book of Proverbs declares that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water.” To put it plainly, God is sovereign, and when we pray for our presidents, we are asking that God do His will through an always imperfect man — and His will can include repentance, wisdom, and justice.
Make no mistake, the command to pray for leaders was not contingent on the virtue of the leader. The Roman Empire of Paul’s day makes Trump’s presidency look like a dimly imagined utopia. We lack perspective. We lack a sense of proportion. As I noted when Christian intellectuals recently denigrated the role of decency and civility in public life, we do not and will not encounter any kind of earthly emergency that relieves of the obligations of eternal commands.
In other words, Christian virtue isn’t a tactic for Christians to use only so long as it “works.” Instead, the counterintuitive Kingdom of God requires us to often deny our innate sense of outrage and do the very thing that so often just feels wrong. Love our enemies? But they’re terrible. Bless those who persecute you? They deserve nothing but ruin. Yet this love is modeled by a Savior on the cross who looked at the very men who were murdering him, mocking him, and casting lots for his clothes and asked God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The counterintuitive Kingdom of God requires faith. It requires us to reject the world’s methods with confidence in God’s wisdom and sovereignty. Our reasoning is meager by comparison. Our ability to control the presidency is insignificant. I like these words, written by a Christian leader not long ago:
Should we not be diligently praying that God would give our president, Congress and military leaders wisdom? Our senators and governors and council members need our prayers — even if they are not the candidates we voted for.
A Sovereign God can turn the heart of a king at any time and in any way. If there are policies and platforms that don’t conform to biblical ethics, the intercession of Christians can be used in a powerful, transforming way.
These words are true. Franklin Graham wrote them in 2014, noting the Christian obligation to pray for Barack Obama, a president he did not support and most Evangelicals voted against. Partisan fortunes rise and fall, but the obligation to pray remains. In an overheated political climate, our Constitution always feels at risk. Our values are always on the line. In that environment, praying for Trump is not the last thing we should do. It’s a matter of first priority for believers in Christ.
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