Late last month, Franklin Graham, along with more than 250 “Christian leaders,” issued a curious call to the faithful. He requested they “set aside … June 2, as a special day of prayer for the President, Donald J. Trump.” The rationale was as hollow as it was laugh-out-loud funny. “President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency,” Graham wrote in a Facebook post. “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God.”
I don’t know where to begin with this nonsense. Prayers for the powerful at the expense of the powerless, especially when the powerful in question is Trump, strike me as immoral. Besides, this is NOT the kind of divine intervention I have prayed for since Jan. 20, 2017.
The president ceded the moral authority of the Oval Office with his “very fine people” backing of the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville in August 2017. And on a near-daily basis, Trump compounds his offense with rhetoric and policies that are nothing more than white supremacy (and other hatreds) propelled by mindful cruelty.
Trump and his administration are an affront to the rule of law, with the president ordering former staffers and agencies to defy congressional subpoenas. Volume two of the Mueller report is a damning look at a president who seems to care not a whit about the Constitution. The only thing standing between Trump and prosecution for obstruction of justice is a decades-old Office of Legal Counsel memo stipulating that a sitting president can’t be indicted. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote, before adding that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In light of all this, the proper response by clergy isn’t to pray for the man responsible for this assault on our values. The proper response is to issue a call to conscience to faith leaders to march on the White House. And that’s exactly what the Rev. William J. Barber II has done. Barber is the president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign who started the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina in 2013. Now, he is bringing “Moral Witness Wednesday” to Washington.
“As President Trump and his administration let the nation suffer, we must lead with a unified proactive and creative response that is not confined by ‘Right’ or ‘Left,’ Democrat or Republican, but is rooted in the clear moral Center of right and wrong,” argues the petition created by Repairers of the Breach that now boasts more than 5,000 signatures. “It is time to warn the nation and call this administration to repent of their sins.”
Calling the Constitution “our covenant,” the petition hammers Trump and others complicit in Trump’s trashing. “Extremist leaders driven by the idols of racism, greed and power have broken the covenant,” the petition states. “With each slash at the 14th amendment and denial of people’s very existence, this administration breaks the covenant. With each border agent commanded by our rulers to rip families apart; with each attempt to deny health care to millions of people; with each pipeline leaking death to communities across this country; with each ballot denied and voice defiled, this administration breaks the covenant.”
In announcing his special day of prayer for the president, Graham declares, “We know that God hears and answers prayer.” Using 1 Timothy 2:2-3 as the rationale, Graham wrote, “The Bible instructs us to pray for those 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.’”
In the face of attacks, oppression and disregard from those in authority, Barber and his fellow clergy declare, “We know God hears the cries of God’s people who are suffering increasingly under the vengeful leadership and harmful policies of our current administration. ... We, as a nation, have lost our way.” Citing Isaiah 58:1, the ministers write, “In such moments, God’s call to action is made known through the voice of the prophets: ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression.’”
But the Moral Witness Wednesday signatories also cite Jeremiah 22:1-5, a more direct biblical command to the oppressed to deliver a stern message to the powerful.
Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates.
This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!
If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!— this palace will end up a heap of rubble.
In the battle of the Bible verses, Barber is the clear moral leader. Who knows how many people will actually join him in protest at the White House on June 12. But if you know anything about him and his calling, that doesn’t matter. As Barber well knows and has shown, speaking truth to power is a lonely endeavor. But with our Constitution at risk and our values on the line, praying for Trump is the last thing we should be doing. Continuing to sit on the sidelines or pretending that any of this is normal, just or right is intolerable.
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