We're commanded to pray for presidents but not to give them photo-ops

Pastor David Platt of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., prays for President Donald Trump who made a brief unannounced visit on Sunday June 1, 2019.
Pastor David Platt of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., prays for President Donald Trump who made a brief unannounced visit on Sunday June 1, 2019. | Screenshot: Vimeo

Pray for those in authority, Paul wrote in a letter to Timothy, but he didn't command public displays with those authorities.

After Pastor David Platt of McLean Bible Church, Vienna, Virginia, prayed for President Donald Trump on Sunday, he wrote a blog post noting that some in his congregation felt "hurt" by the decision.

In response, evangelist Franklin Graham tweeted, "I can’t imagine anyone being hurt by their pastor praying for the President in obedience to God’s Word!"

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After quoting 1 Timothy 2, the Samaritan's Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association president added, "Sadly, we live in a day when there is nothing that isn’t controversial—even prayer!"

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, commentator John Wesley Reid also criticized those who felt hurt, writing, "It is a dark shame that many in Platt’s church were angry that he chose to pray for the president. This anger is nothing short of pharisaic and displays a fierce illiteracy of the gospel narrative."

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. posted a vulgar tweet about Platt, then later deleted it, after he learned that some of Platt's congregants felt hurt.

Graham, Reid and Falwell don't know why their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ felt hurt, however. They're jumping to conclusions, assuming those who felt hurt are opposed to praying for Trump, and criticizing them for it.

There may be some who feel that way, but I haven't come across any Christians publicly stating that we shouldn't pray for Trump. Many of us probably believe he is in need of more prayers than most.

The only information we have is this one sentence from Platt: "I wanted to share all of this with you in part because I know that some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision."

(The Christian Post reached out to McLean for an interview with Platt, but received no response.)

If, as Platt says, they had "valid reasons," opposition to prayer was likely not the reason they were hurt. More likely, they didn't like their pastor being used as a photo-op for the campaign to re-elect Trump.

While the Bible tells us to pray for those in authority, it also provides plenty of warnings about public prayer.

Jesus warned about public prayers when he said, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:5-8 NRSV).

The prophet Amos shows that God hates public displays of religiosity amid unrighteousness.

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

I don't believe Platt is hypocritical or promotes unrighteous behaviors, but these verses do indicate that we shouldn't assume public prayer is always correct, just because it's prayer. When it comes to public prayers, especially when politicians are involved, we should consult the whole of scripture, not just cite 1 Timothy 2 and be done with it. 

Platt's prayer was good. (You can read the whole transcript here.) He shared the Gospel and reminded that God is our ultimate authority, not presidents. He prayed especially for wisdom, important for all our leaders, and noted, "Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Platt also said he used the opportunity to share the Gospel with Trump before they went on stage.

I appreciate that Platt was placed in a difficult situation and had to make a quick decision. The prayer was so hurriedly put together, Trump was still in his golf clothes. His usually recognizable coiffure was slicked back due to his golfing hat. If Platt had more time to think about it, and consult with his elder board, perhaps he would've done it differently.

Platt didn't have to bring Trump on stage, however. When the White House team shows up and says they want you to pray for the president, of course, any pastor should do that. But there is no reason that can't be done in the pastor's office.

By sharing the church stage with Trump, and the photos that accompanied it, Platt was unwittingly used as a political prop. And while we don't know the exact reasons some in his congregation felt hurt, there are certainly some valid reasons to feel that way.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.

Napp Nazworth, Ph.D., is political analyst and politics editor for The Christian Post. Contact:, @NappNazworth (Twitter)

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