Today a new President is inaugurated. Being an American by adoption rather than birth, in the past I have found it a moving occasion, a symbol of the United States at its very best, regardless of party affiliation. Both my wife and I have been dragging ourselves around as a day we dread approaches. This Inauguration Day I am experiencing some discomfort about Donald Trump occupying the Oval Office. The reason is simple: not only do we as Christians find his values and behavior distasteful, but often the very antithesis of our understanding of what it means to be an American and a Christian.
Whether in public worship and the Prayers of the People or my own intercessions, I would prefer not to have to pray for this man and his team. Yet Scripture gives me no other options. To the Apostle Paul, praying for “kings and all who are in high position” is not a suggestion that depends on how much we like them, but a necessity. Looking at Romans 13:1-7 and 2 Timothy 2:1-7, there are no ifs, ands, buts, or easy get-out clauses; whether we loathe them or love them, lifting in prayer those who govern us is mandatory and necessary.
It is good to remember that when Paul speaks about interceding for kings and those in positions of authority (which obviously includes the President) he was himself soon to be martyred. The orders for his execution may even have already been written by the very ruler for whom he was urging Timothy and the churches to pray. This in no way legitimized any action of the Emperor, but it does put our circumstances in perspective. Paul was in many respects merely following in the footsteps of Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 44:24-28), who recognized that while the Lord God is sovereign over time and history both good and questionable individuals find their way into leadership — thus our prayers are an act of cooperation with the Almighty.
To this God the apostle encourages us to pray so that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” This would also suggest that our prayers are part of our peaceable, godly, and respectful living within the wider community.
How does this play out when I respect the office of the President, but find the incumbent to be distasteful? I suspect the most appropriate intercession is that which Solomon prayed for himself when he became King of Israel — that the Lord would give him wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). The presidency makes huge demands on the person who holds that office, requiring not least a degree of wisdom that this President-elect has hardly demonstrated. In praying for his wisdom, perhaps we might also ask that the Holy Spirit break through the shell of his selfishness and self-orientation, so that he may clearly see the part he has to play in the peace, justice, and future of the whole world.
If the reality is that he has been allowed by God to carry this burdensome office, then we are privileged by God to pray for him. This is the tool that the Lord God has entrusted to the community of faith. This is the responsibility of those of us who are citizens of this nation as well as called and chosen to be citizens of the kingdom of God.
Paul was in chains when he told King Agrippa of his prayers for him: “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains” (Acts 26:29). By his example we are encouraged to pray for our President-elect: may he truly come to a knowledge of Christ that will turn him inside out and reorient his life. When as a group of clergy we prayed the other morning at St. George’s, Nashville, our most senior priest (whose life is an example and inspiration to all of us) shared with us his burden to pray intensely for Mr. Trump and the health of his heart and soul.
It occurred to me while driving into church recently that Donald Trump’s mother was raised in a devout Scottish Presbyterian background in the Outer Hebrides. I have no doubt that she prayed for her children, Donald included. Mother’s prayers for their offspring are of enormous importance.
Could it be that when we pray for Trump as president we will be joining our prayers with those of his mother?