In the Episcopal Church, we have always prayed for our leaders, both political and spiritual, and at my church we have always prayed for them by name. But with Donald Trump coming to the White House, that's gotten a lot harder. A couple of weeks ago, the rector decided to remove all the names from the liturgy and pray for leaders only by title. In a follow up announcement, though, he said this would only be a temporary measure. In time (assuming Trump stays in office), we will be praying for him by name.
If you're really going to follow Jesus, you'd better expect to be challenged. You'd better expect that you'll be pushed out of your comfort zone. Oh sure, you can go to church and sing the hymns and pray the prayers and do your Sudoku during the sermon and live a nice, comfortable life - but if you really want a relationship with God, He's going to demand that you be better than you contentedly think you already are.
In this case, that means following Jesus when he told us, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And in this case, I am being pushed. I know that praying for Donald Trump is the right thing to do. He certainly needs it. But I'm having a really hard time with it.
I've realized that it's easier for me to pray for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi than it is to pray for Donald Trump. It's easier for me to pray for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri than it is to pray for Mitch McConnell.
Why? Because I don't really expect ISIS and al-Qaeda to hurt me. They may want me to think they're going to hurt me, but I feel like they're a safe distance away. On the other hand, Trump and McConnell and the rest of the Republican mob hurt me every day. They hurt me with their lies. They hurt me with their insults. They hurt me with their hypocrisy. They hurt me with their plans for the country. They hurt me with the forces they've unleashed.
And I'm a straight white man. Supposedly they love me. I can only imagine what it's like for a woman or a person of color or someone who's LGBTQ. In his announcement that names will be taken out of the liturgy for now, Rector Mike Kinman wrote, "We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety."
Praying for someone doesn't mean you support them. It doesn't mean you agree with them. It's not an endorsement. This week, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry wrote, "I grew up in a historically black congregation in the Episcopal Church. 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."
But that doesn't mean it's easy. Maybe the best thing I can do is be honest with God about it. Perhaps my prayer should be, "God, I know I'm supposed to pray for these people, but it's really hard. Please help me to do better." And perhaps, bit by bit, I'll be better. I'm not talking about "normalizing" Trump and the Republicans. Their own actions will prevent that. I'm talking about the need to continue seeing them as fellow human beings, and not as inhuman monsters. I'm talking about the need to keep our own souls free of hatred. Because that's the only way we're going to get through these dark times and emerge into something better.