THOSE who follow Jesus must pray for Donald Trump as he assumes office today, whatever their politics, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has said.
Bishop Curry made his remarks earlier this week in response to a row that broke out over the prayer service being hosted tomorrow by the Church’s Washington National Cathedral after Mr Trump’s inauguration.
Bishop Curry was prompted to respond after the participation of the cathedral was questioned on social media. Besides hosting the prayer service, its choir will sing during the inauguration.
The question of praying for Mr Trump was undoubtedly “painful” for some in the Church, Bishop Curry said, given that “some of the values that many of us heard expressed over the past year have seemed to be in contradiction to deeply held Christian convictions of love, compassion, and human dignity.”
But, throughout the Bible, and through the life of Jesus, Christians were taught to pray for their leaders, he said. Indeed, he continued, Jesus even prayed for Pilate and the Roman soldiers as they nailed him to the cross.
Praying for Mr Trump, or any other President, was not a “simplistic cheer, or declaration of support”, Bishop Curry said, but a desire that God would lead him to govern for the common good, not “partisan interest”.
The black Episcopalian congregation in which Bishop Curry had grown up regularly prayed for leaders who opposed their civil rights, he said. “We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we marched on Washington. Following the way of Jesus, we prayed and protested at the same time.”
The Dean of the cathedral, the Very Revd Randy Hollerith, said in a statement last week that the choir was singing at the inauguration to “honour the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government.
“Let me be clear — we do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man — or woman — taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honour the nation.”
An Episcopalian church in California will not pray for Mr Trump by name. The Rector of All Saints’, Pasadena, the Revd Mike Kinman, has written an open letter on the church’s website explaining: “Whereas before we prayed for ‘Barack, our president’, we are now praying for ‘our president . . . and all others in authority.’
“We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people — particularly women and people [for whom] because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety.”
For some, Mr Kinman suggests, “it could be as if we demanded a battered woman pray for her abuser by name.” The church is marking the inauguration by holding “A Weekend of Prayer and Sacred Resistance”.
The National Cathedral choir is not the only church representation during the inauguration ceremony. Among the Christian leaders who will be praying or reading during the ceremony are the RC Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Revd Samuel Rodriguez. Both men expressed criticism of Mr Trump during the election campaign.
Cardinal Dolan plans to read from Solomon’s prayer to God for wisdom after he had become King of Israel: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
Also giving a reading will be Paula White, a TV evangelist who leads a Florida megachurch and has long been close to Mr Trump, and is reported to have been acting as his personal pastor, praying with him throughout his campaign.
Franklin Graham, president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, will also take part. Although he did not endorse Mr Trump formally, he has written that the Republican’s surprise win in the presidential election was because God intervened “to stop the godless, atheistic, progressive agenda from taking control of our country”.
Other Christian leaders, however, have criticised Mr Trump’s actions since he won the election. A statement last week from the National Council of Churches (NCC) expressed “grave concerns” over some of the policy proposals floated during the transitional period, and queried Mr Trump’s nominations for his administration.
Beside condemning plans to repeal President Obama’s health-care plan, the Affordable Care Act, the statement also criticises the men proposed as Mr Trump’s Attorney General, chief strategist, and national security adviser.
“These objectionable nominees represent a bygone era of hatred that we have denounced and worked tirelessly to eradicate,” the NCC statement says. “Their corrupted credentials, which include condoning and supporting racist, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim ideologies, are not only unacceptable, but they should disqualify them for service as public officials.”
Episcopalian bishops in California and Massachusetts have sent Mr Trump an open letter opposing his choice of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr Pruitt has expressed doubt about the human contribution in climate change.