This opinion piece is by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
After all, we live in a society in which politics has become a badge of tribal identity. Many see their political “side” as the force for good, and the other “side” as the total opposite. That’s why one can take poll questions on issues and get opposite opinions, from the same people polled, based on whether the issue is associated by the pollster with one president or another. Prayer can become that way.
We can pray in a way that wants absolute success for officials we like, and total defeat for those we oppose. That’s not the way Christians pray.
Consistently, no matter who is in office, we are to pray for success. That doesn’t mean we pray for all of any leader’s ideas to be realized. But it means that we pray that he or she would succeed, would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society and, particularly, so that the church may “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
In contemporary American society, we’re supposed to want those we like to leave office as heroes and those we don’t to bumble and fail. That should never be our attitude.
As Donald Trump takes office as the 45th president of the United States, we should pray that his presidency is a great and good one. That prayer applies to all, whether someone voted for the current president or not.
Those who like the new president should pray that he governs so successfully that their hopes are realized. Those who don’t like the new president should pray that, at the end of his term if not before, they are surprised that they were wrong.
This means we should pray for many things, specifically. We should pray for physical safety. Leading a nation is a perilous thing, as we have seen throughout our country’s history. We should pray also for wisdom and discernment.
A president — or any elected official — will have many expert advisers giving counsel, and many of these experts will see things differently. We should pray that Trump would at every turn have the foresight to differentiate between all the competing options in a way that benefits the country and the rest of the world.
We should also pray that the president is able to bring about peace. This means we pray that he would lead the world toward peaceful resolutions of conduct.
We also should pray that God uses him, through the bully pulpit of the presidency, to model what it means for an often-divided nation to live in peace and civility with one another, even when we disagree. A president cannot do that alone, but we should pray that, as in other times in our history, the president is able to make a start.
The biblical command to render honor also means we cannot in good conscience undermine the legitimacy of our new president. Evangelical believers can and often do publicly disagree with our elected officials over important issues, and holding those in power accountable is part of our duty. But that accountability does not entail proclamations of “Not my president.” Such statements were wrong and irresponsible when some said them during the last administration, and they are still wrong and irresponsible now applied to the new administration.
Inauguration Day is one of new beginnings for a country. It is also a day in which heavy burdens are taken from one set of shoulders and placed on another. We should pray now, while the parades are marching and the choirs are singing, that the presidency now starting turns out to succeed in every good thing, abounding in wisdom and justice.
We are told to pray this way not because the country is ultimately so important.
As a matter of fact, we are to pray that way because the country is not of ultimate importance. We pray for wise, successful civil leadership because we know what matters more: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
We pray for flourishing in the civil arena because that’s good for everyone, and part of our obligation to love our neighbors. We also do so because we pray for the freedom for the church to announce, without hindrance (Acts 28:30-31), a message that outlasts the White House.