If you are still a faithful supporter of Donald Trump. . . God bless you. You are very dear to God. There is nothing you can do to cause God to love you less, and nothing you can do to make him love you more. If you are additionally someone who listens to Franklin Graham’s lead, then maybe you are already signed up to pray for President Trump on June 2. There are however many of your brothers and sisters in Christ who experience anguish over Mr. Trump’s presidency. God’s gracious and merciful shepherding extends to them too, and that’s whom I will be addressing in the remainder of this article. If a defensiveness about your support of Mr. Trump causes you pain, for the sake of your own sense of well-being, I bless you if you choose to refrain from reading the rest of this article.
Perhaps you’ve seen Franklin Graham’s call to prayer: “Along with 250+ Christian leaders, I am asking followers of Christ across our nation to set aside next Sunday, June 2, as a special day of prayer for the President, Donald J. Trump.” The official statement on his ministry website mentions petitions “that God would protect, strengthen, embolden, and direct him. We believe our nation is at a crossroads, at a dangerous precipice. The only one who can fix our country’s problems is God Himself, and we pray that God will bless our president and our nation for His glory.” His Facebook announcement is more explanatory: “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency. In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has.”
I suspect if Mr. Graham knew me and if I asked him whether he considered me one of Mr. Trump’s “enemies,” he would likely respond, “well, you aren’t exactly one of his friends, are you?” I still consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ, and I suspect that I will never transcend my upbringing as an “evangelical Christian,” so implicit in Graham’s announcement is the demand that I “get with the program, i.e. with God’s program.” But the program is the problem! Whenever I encounter the fact that support by my people group (white evangelical Christians) still exists for a man whose character, words, actions and many of his policies—in my opinion—are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel pain which borders on anguish. And when I read headlines like from HuffPost—"Franklin Graham Calls For 'Day Of Prayer' To Shield Trump From Enemies”—well, frankly, I often get triggered.
If you are looking for some help, here’s some thoughts on how to personally process Graham’s announcement:
1. Identify your emotional reaction. If your response is an indifferent “meh,” then I hope you enjoy your Sunday. But if you have an emotional response to Graham’s announcement, can you name it? Is it grief? Anger? Disappointment? Weariness? Despair? Pain over broken relationships? Maybe it’s some nervousness over being at odds with anyone or anything associated with the venerable Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
2. Bless your own emotional response. Society (and the evangelical church) can pour a great deal of shame on our emotions, and some emotions feel more uncomfortable than other ones. Where in your body do you feel these emotions? Put your hand over that spot and be kind to yourself. You can say, “I bless this emotion; it’s a natural and amoral response to a situation that troubles me somehow.” If you’ve got the time and inclination, you can address Jesus and your emotions directly and ask them, “What is it you want to teach me about you, about myself, about this world?”
And now about whether and how to pray on June 2nd:
3. Try some humor. My first thought was of the opening scene in The Fiddler on the Roof when the rabbi was asked, “Is there a proper blessing for the czar?” He ponders this for a moment and responds, “Of course: May God bless and keep the czar — far away from us.”
4. Pray along with Graham his “sensible” prayers. Graham’s website actually has a link to a fine prayer guide entitled How to Pray for Your Leaders. The first two suggestions are: “Open the heart of our president [or any leader at any level] to hear and respond to the Gospel message if they do not know you (Acts 16:14); and, “Help [name] to accept wise counsel” (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22). I genuinely wish that for Mr. Trump.
5. Use this as an opportunity to love your enemies. To be honest, I do consider Donald Trump to be an enemy: an enemy of democracy, an enemy to vulnerable peoples and to God’s creation, an enemy to my own aspirations. The Bible recognizes that enemies do exist in the world; they simply present an opportunity for us to give a test ride to this new-fangled “love of God poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given us” (Rms 5:5). We can guess who Graham means by “President Trump’s enemies” (the media, Pelosi, AOC, the FBI, the 2nd District on NY, Dems, Biden, Mueller, judges, etc.) Just because prayers of love won’t be going their direction on Sunday, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.
6. Remember that God is no respecter of persons when it comes to prayer. Jerry Falwell, Jr. may have more access to the Oval Office than you, but he has no more “access to the throne of grace in time of need” (Heb 4:16) than do you or I or any other miserable sinner. Jerry is the son of Jerry, Sr.; Franklin is the son of Billy; Richard is the son of Oral. God, meanwhile, is so enamored with Jesus, the son of God, the name on your lips in prayer, that he cares nothing for lineage nor reputation.
7. Pray your own additional set of prayers re: Trump. Go ahead and pray for impeachment if that is how the Spirit and discernment is leading you. Pray for justice to be done. Pastor and writer Brian McLaren said that he will be praying this way: “That he will repent of his lies and turn from his arrogance and hostility, that he will stop denying the existential threat of climate change, that he will be held accountable for his corruption, and that he will either be impeached as soon as possible or voted out of office next year, for the good of our country and the good of the world.”
8. Consider the list of “250+ leaders” and recognize that they are not your leaders. I looked through the list of 250+ signatories and only recognized 23 of them, and I’m not uninformed about the national evangelical scene. In other words, ninety percent of these “leaders” mean nothing to me even by virtue of name recognition. The other ten percent mean nothing because, well, evangelicals don’t have a pope and these men and women are not my leaders. Some of the names were just strange in that I have always considered them out on the fringe of evangelicalism: e.g. Richard Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, Joel Osteen’s two sisters. Mike Huckabee and Michelle Bachmann are on the list—how are they “Christian leaders”?! Others once had influence in my life—James Dobson, Eric Metaxes—and I treat them with grief, but I no longer listen to them. For you too—you are under no obligation to consider them your leaders. For that matter, a few weeks back Morning Joe had an interesting segment where some of their [former] Republican and [currently] evangelical commentators speculated out loud, “Why do we even call Franklin Graham a religious leader any more. He’s a political leader.” And isn’t Falwell just a university president, and nothing more?
9. Remember that there are other leaders who resist Trump. By now each of us can count a number of knees that have not bowed to Baal (and then divide by two (knees) to get the number of other Christian leaders who are resisting Donald Trump.) Just this week, charismatic and Pentecostal leaders (some whom I know personally and respect) sent their own letter to the White House: “Christian Leaders Write Critical Letter to Donald Trump.”
10. Pray for the silent and unmobilized middle. I believe that most pastors across this land are good-hearted people who truly want to preach and obey the Word of God and serve the people that God has given them. They however have never been trained to shepherd others through such turbulent times. (And who can blame them? None of us were prepared.) They are afraid of messing up, afraid of doing more harm than good, and afraid, of course, of unnecessary backlash. We can show empathy. And maybe if we come to them, not with our anger at their silence, but with our vulnerability, perhaps we can spark their empathy as well. What if you approached your pastor and said, “Pastor, I’m in great turmoil regarding Trump’s presidency and afraid for me, my family, my country, and “the least of these” as well. Can you help guide me in how I should even pray for him?”