At this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump cast doubt on the public faith of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who marshaled the impeachment effort in the House, and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to convict Trump of abuse of power. With Pelosi looking on, Trump questioned the sincerity of her statement that she prays for him. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said. “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that is not so.”

But it is so.

Many houses of worship follow the practice of praying for leaders. Trump may not believe it, but there are people who strongly disagree with him yet have him in their prayers.

Last Sunday, in fact, Washington National Cathedral prayed at all three Eucharists: “For the leaders of nations, cities, and states, that they may serve with wisdom and courage and provide for the needs of all people.” And this: “We pray especially for Donald, president of the United States; the Congress; the Supreme Court; and Muriel, mayor of this city.”

The congregants know what they are doing and, in Trump’s case, exactly why they are doing it.

It’s because the issue of Trump and prayer loomed large among many people of faith in the days leading up to his inauguration.

Little wonder.

The 2016 election was contentious, and the outcome was, for many church members, extremely painful. Candidate Trump’s behavior throughout the campaign clashed with Christian notions of compassion, love and respect for human dignity.

They were especially disgusted with his vulgarity, meanness and hostility toward people who don’t share his ethnicity.

There was even worry about the appropriateness of the National Cathedral hosting Trump’s inaugural prayer service, and whether the church’s choir should sing at inaugural events.

“Should we pray for the president?” was an open question.

The Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, Michael B. Curry, had little choice but to confront concerns about the president-elect. He plunged in with a Jan. 12, 2017, pre-inaugural statement regarding praying for presidents.

If Trump had read Curry’s message, he might have come to understand what Pelosi, a practicing Catholic, meant when she said she prays with him in mind.

Whether the prayer invokes the name of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Donald Trump, it should ask that leaders, regardless of party or ideology, serve the common good — that they “lead in the ways of God’s wisdom, justice and truth,” Curry wrote. The bishop also wrote that when praying for presidents of the United States, one should “pray for their well-being because they, too, are children of God.”

“We also pray,” he wrote, “for their leadership in our society and world.”

In praying for a president, Curry said, “we are actually praying for our nation, for our world, indeed we are praying for ourselves.”

Curry’s statement appeared at a time when some circles within Christendom (not including most white evangelicals) felt that sending up prayers for Trump was a heavy lift.

It remains so now.

Many of the faithful believe Trump uses presidential power as a weapon to serve his political and personal interests, not the country’s general welfare. That instead of promoting unity, he contributes to fear. That he exploits resentments lurking in the hearts of his political base.

But that is where prayer comes in. The prayerful, Curry said, can also “ask God to intervene and change . . . someone’s mind, or his or her heart.” Hence the expression “I pray for you,” heard and dismissed by Trump, is not a platitude. It is a prayer that Trump be changed into a person who is worthy of occupying the highest office in the land.

Curry said prayer of that kind — even for enemies — can embolden us “to stand for justice” while making us “less able to demonize another human being.”

To answer the lingering question of how in the world one can pray for a man such as Trump, Curry drew upon a memory.

“I grew up in a historically black congregation in the Episcopal Church,” he wrote. “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.” Curry concluded, “We did so following the way of Jesus, whose way is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love . . . a way that can set us all free.”

If Trump doesn’t understand what Pelosi is saying, he most likely will misconstrue the bishop’s message. But the Episcopal Church, and many other congregations of faith, get it. That’s why Trump, whether he knows or believes it, is being kept in the prayers of others.

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