Social media reminded me that four years ago last week, I began to pray for Donald Trump as our President Elect. I continued to pray then, as I had for his whole term, for my President Barack Obama. Four years later I have begun to pray for Joseph Biden as our President Elect and continue to pray for my President Donald Trump as I have every day of his administration.*
Sacred Scripture and my Church bid me to pray for political leaders. The exercise is good for me, because I am reminded of the humanity of the people for whom I pray. The early church prayed for wisdom for emperors that persecuted the church. We even engaged with the emperors philosophically!
This engagement reminds us to love even our political enemies. For many Christians in American history this was hard, as American political leaders supported evil systems such as race based slavery. Christians pray for the salvation and change of heart of every leader, even those that support wickedness in high places. These prayers do not remove the need for Christians to speak up about justice, but we begin in charitable prayer.
Prayer can also be the first moment of prophetic engagement against injustice, first in ourselves, and then institutions. Many of our pastors, bishops, and other leaders are called to preach and pray! The rest of us do the best we can, speak up when we can, and pray without ceasing. We can oppose, often must strongly oppose, injustice in government. Here we follow the example of the Old Testament prophets willing to rebuke kings on behalf of the poor, the alien, and for increased righteousness. Institutional holiness can be the subject of prayer as we ask for an end to evils such as legalized abortion and racism. Following the lesson of Saint Paul, we exercise our rights as citizens and ask courts and rulers for justice.
In a Republic, many years of prayer for our leaders remind us that all earthly power is temporary. The waning power of an outgoing administration, slowly stripped of influence and power, happened to Obama, will happen to Trump, and someday will occur to a Biden administration. As the old order moves out of offices, the waxing power of the new administration will take over the jobs. The old order changes and gives way to the new. Even countries with monarchs as long lived as good Queen Elizabeth II know that the day is coming when a herald will announce the sad news that Queen is dead. Immediately, he will herald the news of the new reign: “God save the King.”
Each of our leaders serves a person, a human being, but the office is not the person. We honor each President as President, even men with whom we have great differences. The honor of the office is, after all, perfectly compatible with working hard to defeat the man as Republicans did with Obama and Democrats have done with Trump. When we pray for the man holding the office, we also pray for our community, the nation, so that the office can endure past any man. As a religion that has known and is found in many nations over millennia, we have faced many governments, empires that have come and gone, but have done our best to be productive subjects or citizens. Christians know that with very few exceptions, chaos and revolution are worse for the powerless than even very poor social orders.
Every year we pray “God save the President” knowing this salvation is often not granting him victory over all his enemies, but saving his soul and his office from human folly and evil. In every nation where Christians live, we know that this is not the Kingdom of God. We look forward always to the better Kingdom.
Yet, as is natural, we love our homeland and pray for her redemption. We glory in her goodness and recollect her heroes and just moments. We judge our beloved nation, our people, with mercy as we hope to be judged.
God save our Republic and God save our President Donald Trump. Give him wisdom. God save our President-elect Joseph Biden. Give him wisdom.
The Electoral College has not met and just like four years ago, I hear of possibilities for other outcomes. Other outcomes while possible, seem unlikely. In any case, prayers help. A prayer for wisdom for Mr. Biden will not change the Electoral College calculus!