Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of the strengths of the Episcopal Church is that it shies away from telling people what they should think on most matters – expecting that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, people will prayerfully make decisions on their own. One result of this expectation is that controversies – big and small – crop up regularly in the Episcopal Church. Some find these controversies troubling and exasperating, others find them exciting and energizing.
A recent controversy is whether the Episcopal Church, parishes in the Episcopal Church, and individual Episcopalians should pray for Donald Trump. Perhaps this is not unexpected, given the very strong opinions about him held by his supporters and those who do not support him.
A recent article by the Dean of the Berkeley Episcopal Seminary discusses how this controversy has affected the national church (there was significant debate about whether the Washington National Cathedral should host the traditional prayer service the day before President Trump’s inauguration) and individual parishes (some have decided not to include President Trump in their prayers).
At St. Paul’s, we usually rotate through the six forms of the Prayers of the People found in the Book of Common Prayer for our Sunday worship. None of the forms pray for the President by name, although Form I has a specific prayer for “the President,” Form III includes a prayer “for all who govern and hold authority,” and Form V prays “for those in positions of public trust.” Even when we use the form that names the presidential office specifically or generally, my practice has been to not include President Trump by name. This is consistent with my previous practice of not including President Obama by name.
Should we pray, collectively or individually, for President Trump, even if he is not included in our Prayers of the People. My reading of Scripture suggests that Jesus’s strong and unequivocal answer is “yes.” Jesus challenges us to pray for everyone, just as Jesus challenges us to love everyone. Each of us is a child of God and is loved by God – even those with whom we disagree strongly. Consequently, each person deserves our prayers and love.
Jesus frequently challenges us to do things that are right but difficult. Jesus lived his life that way and asks that we try to do the same.
While discussing the controversy about the inaugural prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, our Presiding Bishop said of his work in the Civil Rights Movement: “We prayed for leaders who were often lukewarm or even opposed to our very civil rights. We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we marched on Washington. Following the way of Jesus, we prayed and protested at the same time. We prayed for our leaders who were fighting for our civil rights, we prayed for those with whom we disagreed, and we even prayed for those who hated us. And we did so following Jesus, whose way is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love. And that way is the way that can set us all free” (Berkeley at Yale, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2017).
Let us pray that President Trump, and each human, will be open to that wonderful experience of God’s love, and will be guided by that love to do what is right. It is what we hope for ourselves; it is what we should hope for all others.
Go with God,