Since becoming a pastor in 1974, I have included prayers for the president of the United States, and those in governing authority, in the pastoral prayers I have led virtually every Sunday. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, then bringing pastoral leadership to a local congregation, “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.” I was taught that pastors should do this as regular practice and model it for the congregations they serve.
The week before Sunday, June 2, 2019, Franklin Graham came up with the novel idea of calling on churches to pray for President Trump. Why? It seems that Graham thinks Trump is being persecuted. Perhaps Trump gives Graham the sense of proximity to temporal power, and that must be heady stuff. I wonder if Franklin has forgotten how President Nixon did the same with Billy Graham, Franklin’s father. Nixon skillfully developed a friendship with Billy Graham and used it shamelessly for his own political gain. Doesn’t Franklin know that at least some of us pastors lead congregations in prayer for those in governing authority every Sunday? Did Franklin ever call for such a Sunday of prayer when Obama was president? I can’t remember him doing so. Did he?
When I lead congregations in prayer for the governing authorities, including the president, I lay aside any partisan views I may have. Since 1974, I have regularly prayed every Sunday for our presidents: Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama, and Trump. Sometimes I mention them by name and sometimes I don’t. I also include the congress and the courts, at the federal, state, and local levels. I also customarily prayer for the leaders of other nations. I pray for elections in our country and other countries to be fair and peaceful. I pray for troubled places in our nation and beyond.
[Confession: When I am worshiping in other congregations and not leading the pastoral prayer, I listen carefully as I am being led in prayer by another. If those in governing authority are not mentioned in prayer, I miss that. If the world and its troubles are not mentioned, I am troubled.]
For 38 years those prayers were in one congregation. It was my intent to reveal nothing of my political views or what I may have thought of any of those presidents, but to lead prayer in a biblically faithful way. I knew the congregation included Republicans, Democrats, independents, liberals, conservatives, progressives, libertarians, etc. I wanted them to know that I was pastor for all of them. I did not give up my freedom to support my political convictions at the personal level, to vote in every election, and to think and care about national and global politics. I never told the congregation which candidate to vote for. Now that I am retired from being a pastor, I am preaching in different congregations almost every Sunday, usually leading the pastoral prayer. I make the same assumptions and follow the same commitment.
What I find so troublesome about Franklin Graham’s call to prayer is that it comes through as entirely partisan; it makes him look like a court magician, currying the king’s favor, like an in-house prophet who does the president’s bidding and says nothing that would trouble the president. Has he learned nothing from his father’s partisan attachment to Nixon? Eventually Billy Graham realized that Nixon had used him and said so. Will Franklin ever learn?
By the way, without any other prompting, I will continue praying for the president, those in governmental authority, and leaders of other nations this Sunday and every Sunday.