There’s an old Christian adage: If you want a better president, pray for the one you’ve got! Replace president with spouse, child, boss, or feminist blogger as needed.
In the days and weeks following the 2016 presidential election, I heard this multiple times from Christians who made it abundantly clear that anything short of praying for the president’s success would be divisive, unproductive, even “anti-American.” I have heard others respond to this with the argument that principled debate is inherently American – and I agree, but we need to remember that the principled debate that founded our nation came from one specific demographic of slave-owning people. So I am tackling this from perspective of someone who wasn’t at the table.
My fellow White Christians, I would like to ask you something. These questions may seem threatening or accusatory, but that’s not where I’m coming from. Nobody is going to know your answer. It’s between you and you alone. I know it’s hard but I invite you to honestly consider:
Have you ever told someone that their beliefs are divisive? Have you ever encouraged someone to back off, tamp down on the rhetoric, and engage only at a time and place and in such a way you consider civil, appropriate, or polite?
I’m going to press a little more.
Have you ever explicitly or implicitly said these things to a woman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or a person of color?
Maybe your answer is no to all of these questions. But just in case, may I ask: Have you ever thought these things? Have you ever had a lunch with friends where you simply cannot understand how X believes Y and yet have never lunched with X to discuss their belief of Y?
Sometimes when we’re scared, unprepared, or simply unable to find the right words, we react with a power play. It happens so fast it’s hard to recognize. I do it too and I try to be cognizant that sometimes silence or “I hear you” is just better. But one way to detect that you’ve gone alpha is that your response to conflict or opposition comes quick and feels easy – like you’re a humble dustpan that just tidied up most of the mess. But there’s always that line of dust that doesn’t make it in, and that’s the dust you can’t sweep away. The granular issues. The complexities you can neither see nor grasp. The things you can’t pray away.
White Christians, when you tell others that their ideas are divisive, you assert that there is no room for ideas that would cause a disruption or realignment of your own ideas. When you tell someone that the path to unity is to accept the present reality, you simultaneously ignore your privilege while subjecting others to the very oppression it begets. And when you tell people to “pray for the one you’ve got” — with the subtext that praying for means for their prosperity — you invalidate the myriad ways someone can pray.
Friends, I pray for the president. I pray for him every day. But I do not pray for his success, and there is nothing wrong with that.
To shade this in with a Biblical example, do you think the Israelites prayed for Pharaoh’s success? God Almighty, enrich Pharaoh that he may enslave us ever anon and build many fine pyramids on the backs of our children! Do you think the early Christians prayed for the Roman government’s success? Lord Jesus Christ, please empower Claudius to blot your name from the pages of history!
If a politician’s success is roughly defined as their ability to enact their policy platform, then success in the present-day United States would entail the suppression of civil liberties, selective suspension of the first amendment, construction of racist monuments, disavowal of international agreements with long-term global implications – the list goes on. For so many faith-based reasons, I absolutely will not pray for the president’s success.
Moreover, I do not believe that a Holy God would empower the work of someone who lives in rejection of the gospel. (Sidebar: If we use the Fruits of the Spirit as a gauge of spiritual vitality, there is no evidence the president has a pulse.)
So here’s what I pray:
You are creator, king, and judge. As creator, you know Donald Trump. You know him better than he knows himself, because you knew him at the moment of conception. You know your creation is corrupted, and that his heart is enslaved by pride. As king, you know Donald Trump is not above your law. You know he lives as though he is above consequences — and the world has deceived him; it has rewarded his own delusion. As judge, you know Donald Trump has perpetrated lies, blasphemy, and violence.
I pray that you rebuke him, I pray that you humble him, I pray that you renew your creation in him so that he may be moved by a spirit of truth, mercy, and grace. And for all the people who suffer in the meantime, I pray that you draw near with comfort, healing, and hope. Surround them in a blessing of protection. Empower those of us with privilege and resources to resist. Amen.
This isn’t the only way to pray – I am not suggesting I have it all figured out. But for those who will not and cannot engage in “get-with-the-program prayer,” I offer this as an alternative. God hears us and loves us. He is responsive. Let us ask in expectation and rest in the confidence that he has prepared an answer.