Praying for the President
Yesterday Donald Trump sent a letter to House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in which — among other things — he accused her of lying when she said that she, “prays for the President all the time.”
Trump wrote in yesterday’s letter,
“Even worse than offending the Founding Fathers, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying ‘I pray for the President,’ when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense. It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!'”
At a news conference several weeks ago Pelosi was asked if she “hated” the President. Here’s how she responded, as reported in The New Yorker magazine.
“Pelosi had begun to walk off the stage when a reporter from the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group called out to her, ‘Do you hate the President, Madam Speaker?’ Pelosi wheeled around and wagged her index finger at him. ‘I don’t hate anybody,’ she said. ‘I was raised in a Catholic house. We don’t hate anybody. Not anybody in the world.’ She stalked back to the microphone. ‘This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the President’s violation of his oath of office,’ Pelosi said. Then she added, ‘I still pray for the President. I pray for the President all the time. So, don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.’”
It will not come as a surprise to Christians who know the Bible that Pelosi would pray for the President and would invoke her religious upbringing in this regard.
Christians are instructed to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions,” in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Here’s the complete quote from I Timothy 2: 1 – 4:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers and 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.”
Guided by such Scriptures, praying for those in leadership and elective positions is pretty standard in many churches and as, Pelosi put it, in many homes.
That said, praying for the President or another leader does not mean that the church or those who pray for those in such positions of power necessarily endorse their actions or policies. It may, in fact, have a subtly subversive implication.
In our book Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day, co-author Rob Wall and I wrote,
“While a cursory reading of I Timothy 2: 1 – 2 may suggest a domesticated church that was subservient to the state and emperor, we discern a quite different possibility. To pray to the one God for ‘kings and all those in positions of authority’ is to implicitly indicate that the authority of kings and earthly rulers, including the Caesar, is not ultimate. They are not divine, and their authority, while legitimate, is derivative. To pray to the one God on behalf of kings and others in authority is to relativize the authority of earthly rulers. They have their place and function, but they are not God. ‘There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity,’ as Paul also writes to Timothy.” (italics added)
The claim of Rome was that Caesar, the Emperor, was God. The early Christian confession of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” always carried an unspoken and risky, “and Caesar is not.”
So I get praying for the President, whether by Nancy Pelosi or by the minister in a church, or in my personal prayers. I don’t get, and do object to, any prayer for a political leader that makes that person, whether named Trump or Obama, into God’s messiah who is somehow divine or divinely sanctioned in all that they do. As I listen to the impeachment debate in the House it seems to me that not a few of the Republicans seem to very nearly deify Trump, and to consider him above accountability.
For Trump to call Pelosi a liar in saying she prays for the President, is pretty tacky. All the more reason to pray for him.