Evangelicals Pray for Trump at McLean Bible Church
What’s remarkable about this prayer is not that it happened, but that it shows how thoroughly the Trump era has opened the way for cynicism and outrage over even mundane, predictable Christian behavior. Within the world of evangelicalism, Platt does not roll with the hardcore Trump supporters; his prayer was studiously neutral, clear of boosterism and partisanship. While Trump has certainly amplified divisions among evangelicals over race, gender, and the rightful relationship between Christianity and politics, the choice to pray for a person in leadership is not a meaningful symbol of evangelicalism’s transformation under the 45th president.
A number of media outlets marked this moment as newsworthy, publishing stories associating Platt’s prayer with the evangelist Franklin Graham’s call for a special day of prayer for the president. And some liberal Christian leaders called out Platt for what they saw as an implicit endorsement of the president: “The question isn’t whether to pray for those in authority but how to pray for someone who’s abusing authority,” tweeted Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who works with the influential progressive pastor William Barber. “Would Platt have offered a similar photo op to an abusive husband who’s publicly gas lighting his spouse & kids?”
This line of criticism echoes a larger debate among Christian leaders over the last few years: whether they should lend their moral credibility to a president who has made inflammatory statements and promoted controversial policies. Some, such as Trump’s circle of evangelical advisers, believe they are most effective if they work in consultation with the president. Other progressive pastors, such as Barber, believe it is incumbent upon Christian leaders to call out the president’s policy and conduct.
As it happens, Platt, the pastor at McLean Bible Church, doesn’t fit neatly into either of these camps. He is not one of Trump’s evangelical advisers; unlike leaders in those circles, he is not known for tweeting or writing about politics. He is part of a young vanguard of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention who have argued for a countercultural version of Christianity, rejecting the nationalism and consumerism that have become so tightly intertwined with certain evangelical sub-cultures. He’s also recently been on the losing side of Southern Baptist intramural politics: After the Southern Baptist office Platt formerly led, the International Mission Board, signed onto an amicus brief supporting a New Jersey Muslim group’s right to build a mosque, some pastors pushed back, claiming that Islam is a “false religion” that Southern Baptists shouldn’t be supporting. Platt eventually apologized.
In keeping with his fairly non-political profile, Platt kept his prayers for Trump fairly neutral. He did not mention specific Trump policies or the Republican Party. He combined his prayers for the president with prayers for leaders in all parts of government, including Congress, the courts, and at the state level. He mentioned the word “wisdom” eight times. His praise was for Jesus, not for Trump.