Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Praying For and Opposing the President

So, what do we who are not conservative, white “evangelical” Christians do now that DJT is President? That is not an easy question to answer.
I have found it hard to know how to pray with integrity for President Trump. Certainly I am not going to pray an imprecatory prayer, as some did for President Obama.
(If you don’t know what I am talking about, see this article in The Atlantic about David Perdue and his June 2016 prayer; he happens to be the first cousin of Sonny Perdue, Trump’s nominee for the Secretary of Agriculture.)
On the other hand, I find it hard to pray, “Bless President Trump.” Conservative USAmerican Christians make much of Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Tim. 2:2a, which says “Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority . . . .”—and I have seen references to those Bible passages in the past few days.
But what about the German Christians and the Japanese Christians in the 1930s and ’40s? They have often, and rightly, been criticized for not opposing their countries’ fascist leaders for whom they prayed.
Don’t misunderstand what I am saying: I am not comparing DJT with Hitler or Tojo, who was the Japanese prime minister from 1941 to 1944. Neither is praying for a country’s leader the same as approving everything that that leader does.
But it is difficult to know how to pray for and to oppose/resist a political leader at the same time.
Some are saying, though, that the opposition to Trump is much the same as the opposition to Obama over the past eight years—and that those who didn’t like the way Republicans treated Obama shouldn’t support Democrat’s negative treatment of Trump.
The Kansas City Star editorial on Jan. 21 said, “Having criticized GOP resistance to Obama, we can hardly encourage similar resistance to Trump.”
But are they the same? In an online response, I wrote that “there is little similarity between the reason Pres. Obama was criticized and the many reasons DJT is being criticized.
The massive anti-Trump marches last Saturday were not mainly partisan in nature. They were protests against threats to freedom, civility, inclusion, etc. 
A picture I took of a protester in Kansas City on Jan. 20.
There have been numerous calls for giving the new President a chance. On the one hand, that is probably not a bad idea. Much of the protest and negative things that have been said about DJT are based on fear of what might happen rather than on the basis of what has already happened.
On the other hand, the protest and negative statements against Trump are based on what he has said over the past year and a half. As the latest issue of The Economist says, there is “enough information . . . to take a view of what kind of person Mr Trump is.”
The historic Women’s March last Saturday was largely an attempt to protect women’s rights before the new President gives orders or the new Congress passes bills depriving them of those rights. As hard as it may be, it is still easier to keep things from happening than to change them after they are done.
In considering when to resist, consider the following prayer by Duke Divinity School Professor William H. Willimon’s prayer offered on MLK Day last Monday:
Lord, forgive the sin of our patience. Anoint us with a fresh spirit of impatience, that we might be half as angry over political injustice and human meanness as you are, and that, in our impatience, we might be given the guts to do something about it. Amen.


  1. Well, I'm not a conservative or even a moderate evangelical, but Willimon's prayer is spot on, in my view, and one could draw the conclusion, as I'm tempted to do, that it's time to stop praying and start acting.

    1. Thanks for commenting so early this morning, Anton. If it is a matter of either praying or acting, I think I agree with you. But perhaps we can both pray and act, as Fred suggests below.

  2. I was reminded several years back that when we were given the command to pray for those in authority, the Emperor was Nero (an evil man). So whether Nero, Hitler, Tojo, Obama, or Trump, the command remains the same for those under their authority - me must pray. My prayer is the same as it was when I started the practice during W Bush's time - "Lord, grant the President wisdom and humility. God save the President." But I was recently taught that I should follow that prayer with one for me - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

    1. Thanks 1sojourner for reminding us of the need for self-reflection and humility. your concluding sentence reminded me of the words of Thomas Merton that I have cited many times: "If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another."

  3. A friend of mine said (I thought jokingly) that given the deep division in our country, we are headed for a civil war. I've thought a lot about that. Though I pray he's wrong, I think he could well be right. Both sides are so mad. We are without consensus. Trump is going to achieve all he and his followers want through executive action. He has no use for a democratic system like a Congress. He's the boss. He alone can fix it. Perhaps the Supreme Court might stop some of his actions, but that seems unlikely given his forthcoming nomination. A lot can happen in four years. If, as Willimon suggests, God is angry, then Anton is right. We need to be acting, not praying.

    1. Thanks for your sobering comments, David. You are certainly right about the lack of consensus and the abundance of anger (on both sides) in the country. But at this point I don't see any possibility of anything like civil war--mainly because most people are not hurting economically.

      The DJIA just topped 20,000 for the first time, the unemployment rate is low and promises to drop even more as the Republicans now (unlike under Pres. Obama) seem willing to support rebuilding the infrastructure. It will be only when there are serious financial issues linked to other problems, which are many, that civil warlike activities might break out.

      I still believe that the most significant factor causing the outbreak of the Civil War in the 1860s was the threat to the Southern way of life among the whites and the great financial loss that the white Southerns foresaw with the abolition of slavery.

  4. In a democracy, praying and protesting can go together, seems to me, if we’re praying for those in authority to rule with justice and mercy, while protesting against unjust and unmerciful legislation.

    1. Thanks, Fred, for your comments. I very much like your both/and position and what you suggest we pray for and protest against.

  5. I return to the "garden prayer" of Jesus, with an addendum: Regardless of what I want, Thy will be done in and through Donald Trump -- regardless of what he wants.
    It appears to me that Mr. Trump serves a purpose in laying bare, to public view, the "Underbelly" of American society: racial prejudice, sexism, consumerism, militarism, classism, .. and such. It is these things that we must name, claim, repent of, and resist in public expression.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Ed. I like your prayer, "Regardless of what I want, Thy will be done in and through Donald Trump--regardless of what he wants." But that is a little different, it seems to me, than praying for the President, which as I said I have had trouble doing with integrity.

      And by praying "with integrity" I mean praying specifically for the President rather than praying that he will be changed and that God's will will be done in spite of him.

      I fully agree with your second paragraph and appreciate your clear statement of what we should do now.

    2. Leroy: many years ago I was attracted to the teaching of Catherine Marshall regarding what she called the "prayer of relinquishment." She commented that many times "praying for" someone or some situation amounted to telling God what God needed to do in order to satisfy your request -- praying an answer. Mrs. Marshall contended that relinquishing the person or situation entirely to God's care and keeping -- God's will -- was a way of exercising faith in the form of trusting God to do what would be best for the most people over the long run. While God treasured the intimacy of knowing our hearts desire, God also treasured our relinquishment of the "answer" to God's grace and loving provision. So, I haven't "prayed for" anybody for a long time now, and won't start with President Trump. "Whatever you want for him, God -- go to it!"

    3. Thanks for your interesting comment, Ed. I am somewhat familiar with Catherine Marshall, but I hadn't remembered anything about her talking about "prayer of relinquishment."

      Usually I think of praying for someone meaning praying for them to be "blessed" with health, happiness, and the like. To pray that someone to be changed in some way is a bit different, I think, so that is why I said it was hard for me to pray for DJT with integrity.

      But I agree, a prayer of relinquishment is probably a good idea in this case.

  6. Having been a child of the 60's and seeing the turmoil we went through as a country due to Vietnam and Civil Rights, this is not a new situation. It is just new to Gen X and Millennials.

    What I understand of the first years of the Truman Administration, the people were expecting SO much more after the privations of WW-2 and the turmoil that caused. The distrust of governmental leaders caused by Johnson and Vietnam, Nixon and Watergate, Carter and Iran hostages, Reagan & Iran-Contra, George H. W. Bush and Iran-I, Clinton and Miss Lewinsky, George W. Bush and the reported "weapons of mass destruction" Iran-II.

    Being that the motivated activists determine the local nominees, the Tea Party seized an opportunity and drove the Republicans to the Right. Hollywood and coastal affluents drove the Democrats to the Left. EACH party is saying that they need to be more attentive to their base. That is NOT the normal populace like those on this blog but those who support their campaigns. That means the Republicans are moving further Right and Democrats are moving further Left. NEITHER situation makes for a unified country.

    Whether you voted for Trump or not, our process elected him. Now is when the work starts. Trump, and most of his cabinet, are not politicians, they are business people. They don't respond to protests and the can't be bought by lobbyists (and probably don't care if they are re-elected). That might make for a refreshing change, government based on what "should be done" and not "what will get votes". This will certainly be a historic change. Which way? Only history will tell.

    Regardless, the country will survive. Both candidates ran on populace-based platforms. Populism is a terrible way to govern. Judge the Trump Presidency on what ACTUALLY happens and with some perspective of time. If it doesn't work, 2020 is coming.

    The BIGGEST question is who will coalesce the vast majority that is sitting in the center? THAT may be the next revolution.

    1. Easel, so good to hear from you again! It has been a long time, and I am gratified to know that you still read my blog articles.

      I think the historical setting of the current situation is quite important, and I appreciate you taking the time to make such meaningful comments.

      In my book "The Limits of Liberalism" I wrote about the need for a "radiant center" regarding theological issues. Perhaps that is one of the biggest needs politically also.

  7. A few minutes ago, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago sent these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for bringing up this difficult topic.

    "We must continue with the traditional methods of protest: rallies, boycotts, petitions, and letters to our elected representatives. The media must be fearless and resolute in pointing out lies and 'alternative facts' coming from both the White House and Congress. We should focus on policies rather than Mr. Trump's personality. And most importantly, we must insist on the recognition of the full dignity of every American, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or non-religion, disability, or physical appearance."

    1. Thanks, as always, for your comments, Eric. And I agree that we should focus on Trump's policies rather than his personality. But what you mention in your final sentence is of greatest important at this point, it seems to me. While they are not yet policies, the man who is now POTUS has often said things that lessened "the recognition of the full dignity of every American," and it seems that that is what the Women's March and other protest actions have, rightfully, been targeting.

  8. Local Thinking Friend Sue Wright shared with me what she had written to some friends she had talked with yesterday, and then she gave me permission to share her words here:

    "Friends, it occurred the me this morning why it's so difficult to pray for Trump. It's because praying for him is like praying for a character in a TV show or a movie. He isn't real. Just a role he's playing with no depth. He has made himself a caricature--a cardboard image with nothing real--nowhere to meet, spirit to spirit.

    "Praying for him is like trying to change the script on Downton Abbey. Praying someone on a piece of paper will get killed off in the next episode or married off to someone perfect.

    "So only way to pray will be to find that bit if humanity we can hope is still left in him. Or pray for the Great Director's intervention."

  9. Love your response, Sue. I think that is how many of us feel--he is so unreal. I am afraid the truth is that the shameless depth of narcissism he seems to have cannot be cured.

  10. I am happy to share, with his permission, the following thoughtful comments by Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin in Arkansas:

    "When I pray for Trump I pray for the development of wisdom, truthfulness, integrity, compassion and justice. I see him as being severely deficient of these values.

    "I oppose his positions verbally and physically (protests, writings, financial contributions to the opposition, etc.) because opposition matters. Study any justice movement (social, environmental, etc.) and one finds that such opposition has far more psychological power and effect than people realize. Also, there is just something about coming together. It forms the most powerful bonds and networks.

    "Because we are all limited in resources (time, energy and finances) we must pick and choose our battles. First, identify the issues and concerns (which runs the gambit with Trump). Second, enlist support (which means also wooing Republicans who also can’t go along with Trump). Third, find one’s voice (define one’s position setting a reasonable tone) and step out ('go,' 'act,' etc.). Yes! 'Patience,' silence and inaction can become evils. Simmons and Stassen (significant ethical others from Southern Seminary days) 'plague' me to this day. Because of them I cannot not act!"

  11. I am also happy to have permission to post these significant comments by Thinking Friend Michael Olmstead in Springfield, Mo.

    In 'Fiddler on the Roof' Tevia asks his rabbi if there is a proper prayer for the Tsar.
    The careful answer is: 'God bless the Tsar ... and keep him far away from us!' How do I, as a Christian, pray for this president and his cabinet appointees, with the background of crude, hateful, self-serving pronouncements he has made and continues to make. I can (must) pray because God's written word tells me to pray for government/ political leaders.

    "I cannot solve every problem, ease erase every unseemly word, change every offensive
    action, BUT I can seek the grace and help of God to live as his child in this broken world.

    "When the words 'America Great Again' are defined by bigotry, selfishness, and
    arrogance I know to pray for God's truth and justice to be known in our nation. We have long called ourselves a Christian nation without living as Jesus commands, instead, seeing ourselves as 'chosen' or worthy of privilege because we know better and are more prosperous than the rest of the world.

    "My prayers are accompanied by tears as I ask God to teach us the meaning of compassion, generosity, and caring for the oppressed. And I include myself as
    one who needs to continue learning the ways of Jesus."

  12. My friend Doyle Sager, who is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., sent a link to me and Michael Olmstead (see the previous comment). The link, which is to an excellent article he had written that dovetails nicely with this blog article is

  13. Let me respond in terms of "American Carnage." I believe Trump is covering two different issues under this title, and missing one or the other leads to missing a clue about both the strength and the weakness of Trump. His core constituency is a downwardly mobile white working class. Some of his comments appear aimed at the struggling black working class, such as the idea of American Carnage. James Bouie, for instance, published a fine article yesterday about how Trump's description of black inner cities was badly out of focus. However, he never seemed to glimpse the other side of American Carnage. You can read his article here:

    Trump has been criticized widely for not pivoting to the national audience during his transition, but that very failure highlights the real meaning of American Carnage. Of course his caricature of black life was off, it has been throughout the campaign. Even when he appears to reach out to blacks, he is only dog whistling to his base. The real target of the term is the vision of empty factories hulking like tomb stones in the minds of the white underclass that put Trump iover the top. The states from West Virginia to Wisconsin that used to be Democratic strongholds have been devastated by the economic changes wrought by the twin disasters of neoliberal economics and automation. These people are only marginally interested in the factories where black people used to work. The new white underclass is obsessed with their own very real factory tomb stones. Talk of "white privilege" rings cruelly false in their ears. These are the people who inspired the recent book "Hillbilly Elegy." These are the people who are experiencing declining life expectancy. These are the people who are living the American Carnage. These are the people who elected Donald Trump. Ironically, these are also the people who might have elected Bernie Sanders. This whole election has been reminding me of the surprise pollsters had in 1968 when the realized that many of the supporters of George Wallace and Robert Kennedy were the same people. As the old song asks, "When will they ever learn?"

    See Part 2.

  14. Part 2.

    As the finger pointing heats up in the post-election Democratic Party, I have seen two very different arguments dominating. On one side is the traumatized response that gave birth to the wildly popular Women's March. On the other, disgruntled Bernie supporters have been filling blogs with anger over Clinton's use of "Identity Politics." These are people who are basically the socialist version of libertarians. I suspect most of them have trouble with their wives and girlfriends, and, yes, most of them appear male. Few seem to be searching for a way to embrace the passion of both sides. Right now I consider this split a far bigger problem for progressives going forward than anything Trump has done. There is enormous frustration on both sides. Trump is what he is, and I believe his cartoonish overreach will soon collapse. Ever since 2006 the voters have been vigorously throwing the bums out, looking for someone who can actually deliver what they want and need. Democrats won the 2006 off year election. There might be a surprise in 2018.

    Progressives need to find a way to embrace both civil rights and economic sanity at the same time. Perhaps remembering that basics like science are also under attack could be a way to bridge the gap. Global warming is not going away just because Trump says Chinese hoax. We still need clean air and water, safe food, and a decent health system. Quite frankly, there are so many complicated issues that few people truly understand more than one or two. I am not certain the Democratic Party will survive this split, even as it is not clear the Republican Party will survive its open embrace of all things Trump. So who knows just what the surprise might be in 2018 and 2020. In the meantime, for all those praying for our leaders and our country, all I can say is, "AMEN!"

    1. A brief addendum. I read an article with lots of comments similar to what I wrote about American Carnage. Anyone interested can find it here:

  15. Thinking Friend Virginia Belk in New Mexico shares these comments:

    "How about praying that God will strike DJT's conscience? and that his advisers will talk some sense into him?

    "Prayer can change things, we know; miracles do happen..."

    1. Thanks, Virginia, I mostly agree with what you wrote. Still, I wonder if praying that a person will be changed is the same as praying for that person.

  16. Thinking Friend Glen Davis, who is a Canadian and a close personal friend, comments:

    "I agree that it is difficult to know how to pray for Mr. Trump. A colleague last week prayed that God would soften his heart. Joyce and I are praying that our sovereign God will make something good come out of this presidency, and that somehow the values of the Kingdom of God will be upheld in spite of the racist, misogynistic, exclusivist, immoral, self-centered, climate-change-denying, 'alternative-facts-proclaiming' beginning to his presidency.

    "Also, I can pray 'God bless him with what he needs!'”

  17. I'm finding that I must restudy the imprecatory psalms in order to pray for POTUS.

  18. Thinking Friend Virginia Belk in New Mexico sent an email that ended by her saying that "whether praying for change in a person is praying for that person is a valid question, but I am increasingly convinced that at present DJT is doing irreparable damage to the nation he claims to want to help and he is also putting our nation in jeopardy with the entire remainder of our earthly world.

    "How would you define praying for him rather than praying for him to change?"

    1. Thanks, Virginia, for giving me permission to share your comment and question.

      Perhaps we could say that if we pray FOR the President we are praying for that which would be beneficial for him, such as health, happiness, safety, and the like.

      But when we pray for the President to change, we are praying for the well-being of the people around him, for the government, and for the nation as a whole.

      If we think that that DJT is "doing irreparable damage to the nation," and I agree with that assessment, then it seems it is more appropriate to pray for him to change that to pray for him. Maybe it doesn't have to be either/or, but it seems a bit contradictory to pray for someone and also to pray that that person will change.