Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020

Can We Pray for Our Leaders and Still Hold Them Accountable?

How Trump’s illness has (and hasn’t) changed the way we intercede for leaders.

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For the last few days, Americans have been shocked and concerned about the president’s hospitalization due to COVID-19. The reactions have been varied, and many have been decidedly theological. As Kate Shellnutt reported recently for CT, “Several pastors and ministry leaders encouraged Americans that this was a time to pray for the president and the country regardless of their political stances.”

For some leaders, that invitation might come easily. But for others of us, prayerful action comes in the context of a more conflicted view of the current administration. How exactly do we respond to news of the president’s illness?

Seen from one angle, the answer is straight forward. We pray. In my Anglican church, we intercede for our leaders every Sunday with some version of the following:

We pray that you will lead the nations of this world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct our leaders, especially the President of the United States, Donald Trump, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace. Grant that your leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.

At the center of this prayer is the idea that all governments have a solemn responsibility to work on the side of truth, justice, and integrity. They are supposed to inspire virtue and limit the damage of vice. The prayer pertains not only to them as persons but to their powerful influence over the lives of so many.

This year, especially, church leaders have had much to say about the culture and ethos of this country and how it’s shaped by governors, local officials, and especially the president. Christian intercession, then, is not about blind allegiance. It is a recognition that the wellbeing of many often rides on the decisions of a few.

The scope of that influence is precisely why I have prayed for Trump, often daily, throughout the entirety of his presidency. I have disagreed strongly with some of his policies and actions. But when I disagree, I do not pray less; I pray more. As David French writes, “Christians of all political persuasions should humbly (and with full knowledge of our own frailty) seek true repentance from men and women in power. Their transformation benefits us all.”

For me, …

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