Two ways not to pray for Donald Trump

So, it turns out that Donald Trump has Covid-19. Like Boris Johnson before him, some of those who don’t really like him or his politics seem to have fallen into two broad responses.

First, there is this sort of reaction from Dominic West:

Second, as summed up in this tweet from Daniel Johnson, is this sort of thing:

Neither, I think, is right or appropriate biblically.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with holding political views. There is equally nothing wrong with disagreeing with the President (for what it’s worth, I do). I am neither a Trump supporter nor voter. Obviously, I’m not even American so I don’t get a say. But even if I did, I am certain that I would not have voted for him. That is not, bully for me. That is just a statement of fact that is obvious enough to anybody who knows anything about what I think.

But those disagreements – sharp and serious as they might be – are not grounds for me to wish him dead. I think that is an odious response. I don’t think being happy that the guy is seriously ill, but stopping short of wishing him dead, is vastly better either. I don’t think the Apostle Paul – when Nero was was busy throwing Christians to the lions and using them as human torches – would applaud that sort of attitude. Paul, under far worse conditions than anything any of our Western governments have imposed, was still able to write Romans 13:1-7. Peter, likewise, still found it appropriate to write: ‘honour the emperor’ (1 Peter 2:17). Even Jeremiah, when writing to exiles who had been taken from their home by an invading army, was able to say: ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jeremiah 29:7). It is not a license to schadenfreude and there is nothing in scripture that would suggest you can wish ill on those whose political views you don’t like. Even if you think they hate you (or you hate them), Jesus is pretty clear: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (Luke 6:27f).

The attitude Daniel Johnson highlights – whilst it probably is better – it’s still not great. Wonderful, that you feel able to pray for somebody with whom you deeply disagree. Unfortunately, parading it in public like you have performed a miracle is not. Without wishing to dent your desire to pray for your leaders, perhaps especially when you disagree with them, you are setting the bar incredibly low. Let me put it this way: you are seeking congratulations for doing what Jesus not only says you ought to do anyway, but ought to be doing in private. Jesus says those of us acting like that have already had whatever reward we might be hoping for from it.

But maybe even worse than all that, there is an underlying sanctimony to doing this. This is problem that Christians particularly struggle with. For all the talk of ‘the good online life’ and people pointing out apparent aggression and jerkyness, I think this is a far bigger problem from which we suffer. Far more Twitter timelines are filled up with self-righteous sanctimony than any overt aggression and pejorative. That’s not to say that other stuff isn’t there at all, but I just don’t think it is our main problem.

We are using prayer and what the Lord commands to signal our own Christian virtues. We could just as well pray for Mr Trump (or, Boris Johnson, if you like. Or, [insert your national leader here]) in private. We can do that without telling anyone on social media. Which begs the question why we feel the need to do that? Doesn’t Jesus say, ‘when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret’ (Matthew 6:6)? There is a place for encouraging others to pray as they ought. But waving our sanctimonious prayer credential because we – in a totally godly, humble and holy way – have just prayed for a dude whose politics we can’t stand is not exactly, as far as I can see, what the Lord Jesus had in mind.

So, do pray for your leaders. It doesn’t matter whether you like them or not. Jesus says get on with it. Love them well enough to pray for them. Love your city, town, village well enough to pray that – though you disagree with them – they would succeed in what they are doing because in their welfare you will find your welfare. And when you do, do it in private. You’re not doing to get the applause of your liberal or conservative mates. You’re doing it (presumably) because you love the Lord, this is what he asks you to do and you can see how – despite you may feel about it – praying for the success of our government is going to serve our neighbours far more than praying they would fail.

As I said when Boris Johnson got sick with coronavirus, if you have to caveat your well-wishes (or your prayers), don’t be surprised if others view them as no such thing at all.