I know, I know. He’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic… Everything Christ wasn’t, everything we as followers of Christ absolutely should NOT be, practice, or endorse. But we as followers of Christ and people in relationship with YHWH are held to higher standards of behavior, and we are called to love the unlovable and pray for even the most vile of political leaders.
It starts way back in Exodus. When the Lord is handing down the law to Moses for the Israelites, he says, “Don’t curse God; and don’t damn your leaders” (Ex. 22:28, The Message). The leaders are put in place for a purpose. We like to think that that purpose is single-handedly to bring back a revival that will hasten God’s kingdom on earth, starting with the good ol’ U.S. of A, especially since we like to layer a bunch of religiosity on our nationalism. (Yes, nationalism; we’re shifting away from patriotism to nationalism currently, which usually leads to mass persecutions and a strong “us versus them” mindset, even when the “them” are fellow citizens.) But what if there’s a higher purpose?
The writer of 1 Timothy exhorts his readers: “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” (2:1-2, NIV). Hold it! What??? We have to pray for leaders we don’t like?! Isn’t that just a disturbing, uncomfortable thought? But there’s a reason for it – it’s for our own good. The Greek actually reiterates this idea of “peace,” as the Greek for “quiet” here is more of a meditative silence – peaceful. Sounds like a pretty nice life, huh, being free from conflict?
In writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul instructs, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV). Similarly, Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority…” (1 Peter 2:13, NIV). Honestly, it just keeps getting harder to hear, doesn’t it? The idea that God established – put in place, orchestrated, whatever word you want to use – this incoming administration feels like a betrayal to how Jesus himself taught us to live. And the fact we’re supposed to submit to it…? It seems we’re put in an impossible situation.
But maybe it’s not. Maybe the Lord’s purpose isn’t to place the incoming president in a position to bring about the peace we crave himself, but to force us as Christ-followers to take a stand that can bring our eschatological hope closer to us.
It is easy to see Trump as “the enemy,” but, again, Jesus is clear on how we’re to treat our enemies. He says in Matthew 5:44ff to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I think it’s clear that we’re not to pray for their destruction, though it’s certainly tempting.
When I was in Div School, I did a text analysis on this passage in which I sought to answer the question, “Who is my enemy?” (my little play on the question the expert in the law asked Jesus in the intro to the parable of the Good Samaritan). There are nine words for “enemy” in Hebrew, specifying particular enemies. In Greek there’s only one. However, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, so I wondered, Which word for “enemy” did he use? You know, so I could know exactly which enemy(ies) for whom to pray. Well, it was a good idea at the time, but truth was, hours of research later, I didn’t have my answer; no one knew, so I had to rely on the Greek. Through the work, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter. Who cares to which enemies Jesus was referring? At the end of the day, we’re to pray for all our enemies. So I did. I didn’t have personal enemies at the time, but in the post-9/11 months, we could certainly count Osama bin Laden and those in Al Qeada as our nation’s enemies. So they are for whom I prayed. Wanna know something awesome I discovered? When you pray for your enemies, your heart about them changes, and you no longer think of them as your enemies. They don’t necessarily change, but you do.
If we’re going to trust God’s message, then the incoming administration is here to fulfill some part of God’s purpose. We don’t know what that is; we have to trust without seeing the big picture. At the same time, the word of God is clear about what we are called to do: We are to pray for our leaders. Further, we are to be advocates for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, fighting for justice for them, because we are all at some time strange people in a strange land. The first century writers were instructing their fellow believers against the backdrop of unimagined persecutions at the hands of the Roman Empire, a time when churches were meeting in homes and believers were hoping not to be martyred for being one of “them.” White Christians most likely will not suffer personally throughout the new presidential administration, but there’s the disturbing potential for our friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow church-goers who aren’t White Christians to suffer extreme persecutions. It is up to us to be loud, vocal advocates for these people who, like us, are Americans and who, like us, may also be Christians.
The cross offers us free grace, but it’s not cheap. We need to extend that grace to all, no matter the cost.