Praying "For Donald, our President"
This past Sunday morning, as we began our Advent journey, we returned to the familiar rhythms of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), having spent much of the Season after the Pentecost using supplemental worship resources. We found the BCP reflected as scripture readings concluded with "The Word of the Lord," in the prayers of the people (Form I), the Eucharistic prayer (Prayer A), the post-communion prayer, and the dismissal.
Within these deeply familiar cadences, an unfamiliar phrase sounded, which for some rang out as a discordant note, even heresy. For the first time at St. Matthew's we heard the phrase: "With all our heart and all our mind, let us pray to the Lord . . . For Donald, our President."
An audible gasp erupted, instantly followed by under-the-breath proverbial (and colorful) cries of "foul" which sounded across swaths of the sanctuary. Over the decades I've spent in church, never have I experienced such a strong, visceral negative response to prayer.
Let's take a moment to reflect on this.
What are we doing when we pray "for Donald, our President?" Are we supporting his ideas, his tweets, his initiatives, his worldview, his presidency? Are we praying that Trump's agenda succeeds? Are we aligning ourselves with President Trump? No. Absolutely not.
What then do we mean? As Susan Cherco offered in our midweek bible study - we're praying for Donald Trump' soul. And in so doing, we are praying that Donald Trump will use his authority in accordance with God's will. We are praying that the president may be led into wise decisions and right actions for the peace and welfare of the world. We are praying that Donald Trump will seek after truth and find it. We are praying that he serves as an agent of the Kingdom of God.
Now I imagine that while many would concede that "with God, all things are possible," that this prayer might be a bridge too far. Many articles and editorials have suggested the man is impervious to change. When we pray for Donald, our president, we pray that God's will is enacted through Donald Trump. If you find yourself in this camp, I invite you to consider this: Perhaps Donald Trump's presidency will be transformative in its power to awaken the conscience of the nation to respect the dignity of every human being and God's creation - to stand with the police but against police brutality; to stand up for the poor, the immigrant and the refugee; to defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bi, trans, queer folk to live full lives; to make sure once and for all woman are free to live unmolested; to put an end to sex trafficking; to see Mexicans and Muslims and Africans and Chinese as fully human beings; to re-assert the principles of democracy and the extraordinary ideals upon which our nation was founded; to protect our wilderness from unnecessary development; and once and for all to defend our island home, the planet earth.
Finally, for those who cannot imagine this - who can only see Donald Trump as evil - Jesus taught that we are to pray for our enemies. This was not hyperbole. We will NOT pray - as some who call themselves Christians did during the Obama administration - that misfortune or death befall the president. Jesus' reign calls for the reconciliation of all, and for the restoration of all to goodness. The Messiah restores the world. If your sense of patriotism calls you to resist this administration and its policies, praying for Donald our President is - as a Christian - potent. It doesn't mean you want Trump "to win"; it means you trust that God will be triumphant in the end.
And we play our part.
Finally, we pray for Donald our President because we have prayed for Barack, our President; for George, our President; for Bill, our President; and for every other single President before them. We pray for our leaders, because we are faithful Christians; we are faithful Episcopalians. The Book of Common Prayer commits us to this practice on page 384.
As we await Jesus' return, we get ready to celebrate the commemoration of his birth. The Gospel of John (1:9, 5) introduces Jesus saying "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. . . . The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
Let us put our whole trust in the light. Let us strive to ourselves live as light-bearers: may we shine the light in our own time.
The Rev. Charles A. de Kay