Tish Harrison Warren: in My Church, Only Some of Us Voted for President Trump, but All of Us Pray for Him

Pastor David Platt, left, prays for President Trump, at McLean Bible Church, in Vienna, Va., on June 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Praying for the president has gotten an unusual amount of press lately. Not long ago, Franklin Graham called for churches to set aside June 2 as a day to pray for President Trump. Then, on June 2, Trump showed up unannounced at McLean Bible Church in northern Virginia asking for public prayer from its pastor, David Platt.

Platt has since drawn widespread praise, criticism and sympathy — the latter mostly from other pastors who are relieved to have never been in Platt’s situation.

What has intrigued me about this discussion is how much evangelical Christians regard prayer as a means of self-expression. Graham’s call to prayer was an attempt to defend and promote the president. Platt’s words, as meticulously nonpartisan as the photo-op they yielded was not, again revealed how prayer in evangelical communities functions as self-revelation, even as a type of public branding.

Prayer, in this view, is not primarily an ongoing, received practice wherein God shapes us but is focused instead on expressing our own thoughts, needs and feelings to God and, in the case of public prayer, to the watching world. It is understood less as an ancient and mysterious spiritual practice than as a chance to endorse (or condemn) what we see in the world around us.

I have experienced this kind of prayer firsthand. I have seen congregational prayer become a chance to hold forth about the glory of the Marine Corps, as all the pacifists in the room shifted uncomfortably. I’ve seen prayer used as a tool to manipulate others toward a pastor’s chosen end. I’ve even seen prayer used as a chance to convince a girl that God really did tell a boy in the room that she should marry him. (As of this writing, the girl has apparently not received the message.)

And of course I’ve seen prayer used as a political weapon.

Historically, prayer has been chiefly understood not as a way to express ourselves, but as a way that we come before God to be transformed by his words and work. The original prayer book of the Christian church was the Psalms, and when the earliest Christians — in particular the church fathers and mothers — commended the practice of prayer, they were not commending self-expression before God; they specifically meant learning to pray the poetry of the Psalms.

Many who belong to churches in liturgical traditions — whose services are conducted according to an order of prayer that varies only minimally from week to week — pray together each Sunday during the prayers of the people. Amid enduring prayers for the church, the suffering, the poor, the Earth and the dead, we Anglicans pray as a community “for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world, that there may be justice and peace on the earth.”

A procession for a private prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Philip Episcopal Church begins the inauguration ceremonies of Georgia Gov.-elect Brian Kemp on Jan. 14, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

We pray this each week, regardless of who is in office, and this liturgical practice has allowed me, slowly, to warm up to the idea of praying for those in power. For most of my life, I didn’t pray for political leaders. Though Scripture commended the practice, I was cynical enough about politics that I didn’t know how to pray without a big dose of sarcasm or ire. I am also hopelessly politically homeless, so I often don’t have words to convey my political frustration, lament, confusion and complexity.

I am grateful, then, for the received prayers we say in church each week and how they have shaped me and my church community.

To be clear, we Anglicans and other liturgical churches are not opposed to “free,” expressive or spontaneous prayer. I use free-form prayer as much as I do scripted prayers, and I teach my kids to pray conversationally with God.

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Source: Religion News Service