It all started when Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, issued a plea to the nation to pray for President Trump. Graham made an announcement on his Facebook page at the end of May, asking Christians to set aside June 2 “as a special day of prayer for the president.”
“We know that God hears and answers prayer.” he wrote. “He can soften hearts and change minds. He is all-powerful, and He rules over the affairs of nations. The Bible instructs us to pray for those in authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:2–3).”
The Bible commands Christians to pray for those in authority over us — the church I attend does it regularly, no matter the president — so it shouldn’t be a stretch for any Christian or church to do so. Whether or not we agree with the president and his policies, we are to pray for him (for the record, I said the same thing about Obama). In reality, there should be no need for Graham or anyone else to call Christians to pray for Trump. They should already be doing it.
Fast-forward to this past Sunday, June 2, when President Trump showed up unannounced at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., clad in khakis, a polo shirt, and a blazer fresh off a round of golf. A spokesperson for the White House said the president was there to “visit with the pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach,” where 12 people were killed in a mass shooting on Friday.
In a blog post later that day, Pastor David Platt described what happened next:
At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him. I immediately thought about my longing to guard the integrity of the gospel in our church. As I said in the sermon today, Christ alone unites us. I love that we have over 100 nations represented in our church family, including all kinds of people with varied personal histories and political opinions from varied socioeconomic situations. It’s clear in our church that the only reason we’re together is because we have the same King we adore, worship, fear, and follow with supreme love and absolute loyalty, and His name is Jesus.
He said he immediately thought of the verse from 1 Timothy above commanding Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” and “decided to take this unique opportunity for us as a church to pray over him together.” Platt explained in the blog post that he was in no way endorsing the president, his policies, or his party, rather, he wanted to “to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays.”
As he waited for the president to arrive, Platt wrote, “In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him.”
While I won’t go into the details of our conversation backstage, one of our other pastors and I spoke the gospel in a way that I pray was clear, forthright, and compassionate. Then I walked back out on stage, read 1 Timothy 2:1-6, and sought to pray the Word of God over the president, other leaders, and our country… After I prayed, the president walked off stage without comment, and we closed our gathering by celebrating heroes among us, a couple who has spent the last 48 years spreading the gospel in remote places where it had never gone before they came. We then recited the Great Commission as we always do, sending one another out into the city for the glory of our King.
Platt’s prayer—faithful, biblical—is worth reprinting in its entirety:
O God, we praise you as the one universal king over all. You are our leader and our Lord and we worship you. There is one God and one Savior—and it’s you, and your name is Jesus. And we exalt you, Jesus. We know we need your mercy. We need your grace. We need your help. We need your wisdom in our country. And so we stand right now on behalf of our president, and we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him.
God, we pray that he would know how much you love him—so much that you sent Jesus to die for his sins, our sins—so we pray that he would look to you. That he would trust in you, that he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.
Lord we pray, we pray, that you would give him all the grace he needs to govern in ways that we just saw in 1 Timothy 2 that lead to peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. God we pray for your blessing in that way upon his family. We pray that you would give them strength. We pray that you would give them clarity. Wisdom, wisdom, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Please, O God, give him wisdom and help him to lead our country alongside other leaders. We pray today for leaders in Congress. We pray for leaders in courts. We pray for leaders in national and state levels. Please, O God, help us to look to you, help us to trust in your Word, help us to seek your wisdom, and live in ways that reflect your love and your grace, your righteousness and your justice. We pray for your blessings on our president toward that end.
Platt modeled, with his prayer and in his desire to share Christ with the president, what a pastor ought to do in this situation. He neither praised Trump nor criticized him; he prayed scripture over him and prayed that Trump would look to God. Platt had an opportunity to share the gospel with the leader of the free world and he took it. And then he followed God’s command to pray for Trump.
But nothing involving Trump is simple. The media freaked out, Twitter went wild, and Platt received complaints from members of his church (which prompted the blog post), saying that they were hurt by what Platt did.
“I know that some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision,” he wrote. “This weighs heavy on my heart. I love every member of this church, and I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God.”
Platt said that while he was thankful he had a unique opportunity to obey the Bible’s command to pray for our leaders, “I don’t want to purposely ever do anything that undermines the unity we have in Christ.” He asked his church to pray with him for the “gospel seed that was sown today to bear fruit in the president’s heart.”
“I’m guessing that all of us will face other decisions this week where we don’t have time to deliberate on what to do,” he said. “I’m praying now for grace and wisdom for all of us to do exactly what we talked about in the Word today: aim for God’s glory, align with God’s purpose, and yield to God’s sovereignty.”
The letter was biblical, pastoral, faithful. But…
Twitter again went wild, with some accusing Platt of being a tool of the president who was politicizing his church, and others screeching that Platt was a spineless coward for writing a blog post explaining his actions to his church family.
Can you guess which side Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, was on? It probably won’t surprise you that he came out swinging at the pastor who had just shared the gospel with Trump. And he couldn’t resist being crude, his preemptive apology notwithstanding: “Sorry to be crude but pastors like @plattdavid need to grow a pair. Just saying,” Falwell tweeted.
(Update: the tweet has been deleted.)
Platt was in a tough position. He had but a few minutes to decide what to do. He didn’t want to politicize his church, but he also didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the president. He chose to engage with Trump—obeying the Great Commission and Timothy’s command to pray for those in authority as well as Peter’s admonition to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Sure, he could have declined, could have sent Trump and his polo shirt packing, could have avoided the controversy, but he didn’t—and now, sadly, he’s taking flack from all sides.
Whatever Trump’s reasons were for showing up, his surprise visit, which disrupted the flow of the church’s regular Sunday services, put Platt in a difficult position. I hope and pray that if I were ever in that position I would have the presence of mind and temerity to pray such a prayer and to speak truth into the president’s life on a moment’s notice — and I hope Falwell would too, and that he has done so during his many photo ops with the president.
But shame on Falwell for heaping scorn on to this young pastor who, through no fault of his own, was thrust into a situation he couldn’t have anticipated when he awoke that morning and made his way to church. Falwell, whose unbridled, unconditional love for Trump has colored his judgment, seems unable to accept that there might be legitimate reasons for Christians to object to seeing a polarizing political figure on stage at their church when they showed up to worship God that day. I suppose that Falwell would prefer to see Platt give his congregation a good thumping for not being sufficiently loyal to Trump (the cruder the better!) but that’s not a pastor’s calling, nor is it the calling of churches. The purpose of the church is to teach the Word of God, edify the body of Christ, and to encourage evangelism among the congregants. Platt did all those things and ought to be praised for his faithfulness to God.
As much as it must rankle Falwell to know that not all Christians are equally enamored with the president, he needs to understand that there is room in Christianity for those who don’t approve of Trump—and for those who believe that politics should be kept out of the pulpit.
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