Note from CM: I will moderate closely today. Mind your Ps and Qs.
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Sunday’s event is a near-perfect embodiment of political evangelicalism in the Age of Trump: It blends Christian nationalism, the idea that the United States has a special place in God’s plans and Trump is God’s agent; social media, where it’s hard to separate the wheat of grassroots support from the chaff of Russian bots; and it has seriously irked Christians who say Graham and others have sold their souls for a mess of political pottage.
[Franklin Graham] has found his pearl of great price — the political welfare of Donald Trump — and has sold everything else to buy it.
I preached at a local church this past Sunday. Before the service, one of the women I know came up to me and asked me to pray specifically for President Trump in the service. She handed me a press release from Franklin Graham, beseeching Christians to make that Sunday a special day of prayer for our president, who “is under attack” and needs special spiritual protection “from his enemies.”
I have no problem praying for the president, along with all public leaders. In our Lutheran church, the prayers that are prepared for each Sunday always include a section in which we intercede on behalf of them, that they might have wisdom and work for justice and peace in our world. This is a clear N.T. instruction in 1 Timothy 2. So, when I led the pastoral prayer in this other church last Sunday, I prayed for President Trump by name and I prayed for our congressional representatives, our state and local leaders, and governmental leaders around the world, mentioning that we live in a time of political turmoil, and asking God to guide and help all of them.
I’m not sure if that satisfied my friend who had asked me to pray, but that’s the way I approached it.
I certainly did not approach praying for the president the way Franklin Graham called for pastors to do. That was not about prayer, but something else altogether. That was pure partisan politics. It represented the very opposite of the independent, prophetic stance the Bible calls God’s people to take. I can’t imagine Graham would have ever issued such an emergency bulletin to pray for President Obama, the Democratic-led House of Representatives, or anyone else with whom he disagrees politically.
For someone who says he believes the Bible, this is simply unconscionable. The prophets who spoke to kings and other leaders in biblical times did not represent their nation, nor were they cheerleaders for those in power. They represented God and his word alone. They did not assume, even though they may have believed in some fashion that God had “raised up” the ruler, that this meant he must be supported without question.
Michael Gerson, who is himself a person of Christian faith and one who has been severe in his criticism of evangelicals and their support for Trump, wrote that Franklin Graham’s appeal was pure promotion of the president and a betrayal of the gospel.
[T]he Rev. Franklin Graham’s recent declaration of a “special day of prayer for the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump” on June 2 had a very different theological flavor. Graham made clear that the real purpose of the event was not to pray for the president, but to pray in his political favor. “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family and the presidency,” Graham explained. “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has.” The American Family Association described the day of prayer as a type of “spiritual warfare,” necessary because Trump’s many accomplishments “make him very unpopular with the Devil and the kingdom of darkness.”
Who are the “enemies” that Graham had in mind? Who represents “the kingdom of darkness”? The Democratic Party? Robert Mueller and the “deep state”? Never-Trump Republicans?
However the conspiracy against the president is defined, I suppose I am part of it. Having been accused of serving the Prince of Darkness, I feel justified in making a frank response.
In their day of prayer, Graham and other Trump evangelicals have used a sacred spiritual practice for profane purposes. They have subordinated religion to politics. They have elevated Trump as a symbol of divine purposes. And they are using Christian theology as a cover for their partisanship.
So: This is blasphemy, in service to ideology, leading to idolatry, justified by heresy. All in a Sunday’s work.
If you’ve been reading Internet Monk or my (former) Chaplain Mike Facebook page, you know that I have been unswerving in my opposition to President Trump — since long before the election, by the way — but that is NOT what this post is about.
This is about the ongoing syncretism of God and country in the U.S. through Christian nationalism, and about how Christians with public access like Franklin Graham are calling us to put our hope for divine favor in nationalism and partisan politics, then trying to cover it with piety and prayer.
I happen to think the Bible has a lot to say about that very subject. And nothing positive. Jesus himself stood in the long tradition of Hebrew prophets who stood face to face with rulers and confronted them with unvarnished truth, refusing to subordinate their faith, God’s standards, and the welfare of God’s people to political personalities, patronage, or policies. Like them, Jesus reserved the right to call Herod a “fox” when he deserved it.
I think the fox in this case is the one who’s licking Herod’s boots.