A Virginia pastor felt compelled to explain to some “hurt” congregants why he prayed with President Donald Trump during a Sunday church service last weekend, but the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham did not shrink back from praying for those in authority.
No pastor or believer in a living God should.
In a letter to his McLean Bible Church members, Pastor David Platt recounted how he had to make a quick decision without the “liberty of deliberation” when he learned Trump was on his way to the Washington, D.C. metro area megachurch and asking if the preacher would pray for him.
Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and more than 250 other Christian leaders had called for a “special day of prayer” for the president on June 2, citing the Bible’s 1 Timothy, chapter 2, in which the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”
Referencing Graham’s call and the 1 Timothy passage, Platt did just that, petitioning the Lord with his hand on Trump’s shoulder.
“[O]n behalf of our president … we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him,” the preacher said.
“[W]e pray that he would look to you. That he would trust in you. That he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice and good for righteousness and good for equity,” Platt added.
It was a pretty standard, non-partisan and, by all appearances, heartfelt prayer. Yet after receiving some blowback, Platt wrote to his congregation Sunday afternoon that “some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision. This weighs heavy on my heart.”
Many news outlets seized on Platt’s letter, characterizing it as an apology, while others called it an explanation. But in either case, the prayer he offered should be able to stand alone. There was really nothing else he needed to say.
.@PlattDavid, who led his congregation at @McLeanBible in praying over Pres. @realDonaldTrump on Sunday, is catching flak from members who said they were “hurt” by this. I can’t imagine anyone being hurt by their pastor praying for the President in obedience to God’s Word! 1/3
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) June 4, 2019
Franklin Graham tweeted in response, “.@PlattDavid, who led his congregation at @McLeanBible in praying over Pres. @realDonaldTrump on Sunday, is catching flak from members who said they were ‘hurt’ by this. I can’t imagine anyone being hurt by their pastor praying for the President in obedience to God’s Word!”
In his autobiography, “Just As I Am,” Graham lamented an opportunity he passed up to meet one-on-one with President John F. Kennedy immediately following the National Day of Prayer breakfast in 1963, Baptist Press reported.
Before getting in his presidential limousine, Kennedy stopped and asked Graham to come back to the White House to discuss something with him, but the preacher was fighting the flu and didn’t want to get the commander in chief sick.
He asked if they could get together a different time, to which Kennedy agreed.
Unfortunately, the meeting never happened because an assassin felled Kennedy just months later.
“His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still,” Graham wrote. “What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) February 7, 2019
When George W. Bush designated Sept. 14, 2011 a “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance” for the thousands of victims and their families of the 9/11 attacks, Graham offered reassuring words to the country at the National Cathedral in Washington about how to respond to the “diabolical schemes” that had been unleashed on America.
“President and Mrs. Bush, I want to say a personal word on behalf of many people,” the preacher began.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this day of prayer and remembrance. We needed it at this time.”
“My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and will know in our hearts that he will never forsake us as we trust in him,” Graham said as he drew his remarks to a close.
“We also know that God is going to give wisdom and courage and strength to the president and those around him.”
The tradition of praying for those in public office goes back to the earliest days of the republic.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress issued proclamations calling for days of prayer, including for the army’s commander in chief, George Washington.
During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a few years after the war, Benjamin Franklin spoke to the the delegates about how the Continental Congress prayed daily while in session during the conflict.
“Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor,” he said.
He also quoted the words of Jesus and King Solomon from the Bible to drive home the point that God governs over the affairs of this world, and therefore is the greatest source of wisdom for those holding positions of authority.
“I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service,” Franklin concluded.
One of Washington’s early acts after being elected the nation’s first president, was to issue a proclamation calling for a day of prayer.
In it, the chief executive asked for Americans to pray, “[T]o render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord.”
In more recent times, President Dwight D. Eisenhower — whose D-Day leadership as supreme allied commander we celebrated this week — heard a sermon by a preacher in 1954 that resulted in the words “under God” being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rev. George Docherty delivered the message in the Presbyterian church President Abraham Lincoln attended during the Civil War.
The minister honed in on the words “under God” in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, saying it is really what separates the United States from totalitarian regimes around the world.
Eisenhower told the preacher after his sermon, “I agree entirely.”
A few months later, Congress passed and the president signed into law legislation adding “under God” to the pledge.
Eisenhower observed that millions of schoolchildren would from then on be reminded of our country’s “true meaning,” reaffirming “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future” and thereby “strengthen[ing] those spiritual weapons which will forever be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
Pastors and believers who pray for presidents are keeping faith with one of the nation’s most profound and powerful traditions, and more importantly staying true to the word of God.
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