During the Prayers of the People we offer up to God's guidance the leaders of the world. This follows the historical Book of Common Prayer services from the first edition on, when the Anglicans of Great Britain would pray for whomever the reigning monarch at the time might have been. This posed a challenge during the War for Independence. Many Anglicans fled to Canada because they remained Royalists. Over half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence though were Anglicans. The system of a bicameral house of elected officials (Senate and House of Representatives) which they later formed became as well the pattern for the national Episcopal Church: a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies.
What titles to call our top elected leader, George Washington, created controversy. Some wanted to retain the titles of royalty, so his Highness and his Majesty were seriously floated, but derided and rejected ultimately by people such as Benjamin Franklin. Still, when George Washington was sworn in as president, the announcement of his taking of the oath of office ended with "God save the President."
While Episcopalians have always prayed for the President, whomever was in office, Jesus' teachings, and Paul's as well, create an ambiguous relationship between Christians, the church, and secular authorities. "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's," Jesus' answer on whether to pay taxes to military overlords has been spun in just about every direction possible: be a good subject, pay taxes; the world/mammon/wealth are separate from God's kingdom, so do not worry about holding on to wealth; all things are actually the Creator's...the only allegiance we actually owe is to God. Certainly Jesus ultimately came up against the Powers, both the religious leaders of his time who felt dramatically threatened as well as Pontius Pilate representing the Roman Empire and Caesar. In Hebrews and I Peter we are reminded that we are sojourners, aliens and strangers in this world, and we seek a more permanent, heavenly city.
And yet Paul, at the conclusion of his final letter, to the Romans, a letter that sums up all his theological and spiritual teaching as he sits in jail waiting as a citizen of the Empire to be judged and martyred says "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." (13: 1ff)
I've brought up some of the biggest scripture passages on the matter, butxample and counter-example are available in scripture and tradition to keep the nuances going, including our baptismal vow to "renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God."
This is the first election cycle when I've been asked-and this has been by several different members-to leave out 'Donald' when we pray for the leaders of the world. Maybe the more relevant teaching from Jesus, and Paul later with a twist, is to pray for our enemies, those who hate us, and whom we are drawn to hate. Jesus begins his public ministry in Matthew with the Sermon on the Mount, which includes, 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.'" Paul adds his own twist in that same Letter to the Romans, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
That 'heaping burning coals on their heads' bit never fails to bring a chuckle...
Maybe where Paul ends that is where we begin, under any political leader: overcoming evil with good. Jesus took on the words and mantle of Isaiah,
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'
And we who are baptized into Christ and his mission are bid to do the same.
All along praying for George Bush or Barak Obama has not meant endorsing their policies. For example I think that history will judge harshly the use of drones and the 'collateral' civilian deaths, the terror from the sky felt by villagers in far off countries just trying to live their lives and unlucky enough to be near a 'target.'
Rather, we ask that God direct and rule the hearts of leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Some Sundays I might utter under my breath, "but God, you're taking your own sweet time with this, aren't you," or "now, please." So we'll pray for Donald. We don't know what might be accomplished, or what might fall short if we fail to do so. I'm reminded of the joke about a fellow repeating some behavior-something like clapping-and is asked why. The fellow responds, "To keep the sharks away." The questioner sputters and says, 'But this is land; there are no sharks on land.' The fellow's reply: "see, it's working."
OK, maybe not the best analogy, and maybe I just wanted to throw some humor into the midst of really challenging matters. To those of you who have asked me to consider not including Donald in the prayers: we have faith in a God who is greater than any leader, and Who might just respond with surprising changes. Or perhaps the prayer might be part of a process allowing you to step back from the emotional bondage you feel with this fellow whom you strongly oppose and dislike-a giving up of anger where it is impotent, so that you can see what you can actually do and accomplish, to use your time, energy, voice and money where and when you actually can to bring about a counter-vision.
Yours in Christ,