After the media wave of predictable rants and raves by political-religious pundits following President Donald Trump’s brief stop at an evangelical church and the pastor’s prayer, perhaps it’s still worth taking a collective breath to reflect on what did and did not occur on stage.
Let’s get this straight, right out of the gate: There is nothing wrong with praying for the President of the United States of America. No matter if the president is a Republican, Democrat or independent, prayer for, with and over the president or other leaders is a biblical prescription: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
“Praying for someone and endorsing someone are entirely different things.”
Pastor David Platt of McLean Bible Church prayed for President Trump and in turn wrote a letter to his congregation expressing that some in the church were hurt by the act. Platt was given minutes to prepare for the presidential visit. When you read the text of Pratt’s prayer for Trump, there is nothing in the prayer that is controversial. At one point, the pastor prayed, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Please, oh God, give him wisdom.”
Some have claimed that praying for the president is akin to an endorsement of the president. Praying for someone and endorsement of someone are entirely different things.
Jerry Fallwell Jr., an outspoken supporter of Trump, proclaimed that pastors like Platt “need to grow a pair” while referencing Platt’s statement concerning hurt congregants. This is a shocking comment coming from the president of one of the largest Christian universities in the world.
If anyone was “hurt” by Trump’s appearance at McClain Bible church it is because of three things.
First, the president didn’t worship with the McLean Bible Church in any meaningful capacity. According to reports, Trump’s motorcade spent 16 minutes at the church. From the video of the prayer, Trump was still in his golf shirt, golf hat and golf shoes when he entered the bema. He was not there to worship God; he was there to be prayed for and then leave. There was no attempt on Trump’s part to have any meaningful worship directed toward God. It would have been a far greater opportunity for Trump to skip the golf and participate in the whole worship of God with the congregation, as past presidents have done.
Second, we were told that the president was going to church to pray for the Virginia Beach community following another tragic shooting. He didn’t. The White House and presidential staff told reporters that Trump was going to pray: “President Donald J. Trump is visiting McLean Bible Church in Vienna, VA, to visit with the pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.” Instead, Trump went to receive prayer for himself.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama spoke and prayed at breakfasts, Christian gatherings and churches. However, those presidents never went to a Christian gathering of worship just to be prayed for. For McLean Bible Church, the optics of Trump’s visit communicated, “I’m just here to be prayed for and then I’m on my way.”
“Trump treated the opportunity like a drive-through visit.”
Third, it was disrespectful and self-imposing to just “show up” at a Christian worship service to be the center of attention instead of placing attention upon God. Presidents make unplanned visits all the time to ice cream shops, small businesses and even fast-food restaurants. It makes for good television images. Every modern president has done it. However, Trump saw this as another place to appear instead of being invested in what was occurring at the time – namely, the worship of God. Trump treated the opportunity like a drive-through visit.
Some presidents have spoken at church to offer an inspiring message of hope or simply to be present as attendees. Trump didn’t do either of those things. Some may say, “Well, the president is very busy.” If Trump is such a dedicated Christian, why not stay? He made time for his four to five-hour golf round. Why not take time to join others in the worship of God?
At this point, some Christians will think I’m writing simply to bash Trump. I’m not. Praying for our president is needed and appropriate. Unfortunately for McLean Bible Church, Trump saw church as an object to be used and not a spiritual place to connect. The criticism of the president here is aimed at refocusing the narrative not on a pastor praying for Trump, but Trump’s never-ending quest to make everything about himself – even in church. That is what is truly hurtful.
I understand why some at McLean Bible Church felt hurt by Trump’s visit, but it is clear that their pain was less about prayer and more about how Trump treats the Christian faith.