Pastor Says it is “Bordering on Heresy” to Pray for the President?
This picture of faith leaders praying over President Donald Trump in the Oval Office recently went viral on social media. I’m not so much interested in who the people are praying for President Trump and Vice President Pence as I am the reaction from around the country.
Specifically, I found the reaction of a “pastor” very curious.
Pastor William Barber of North Carolina said that faith leaders violated “the sacred principles of religion” by praying for President Trump. He went on to say that this prayer is “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”
These comments were made on an MSNBC show by the pastor and NAACP leader much to the surprise of many that saw the photo as something to be encouraged by. After all, many presidents in history have asked for prayer for wisdom and courage during their time as president. Apparently Barber is not one of those that is encouraged.
I’m trying to figure out why a “pastor” is so vocally opposed to the world’s most powerful leader being prayed over by faith leaders. What could possibly be so offensive to a “pastor” about our president seeking and receiving spiritual direction? What am I missing about this image of the President of the United States and his Vice President seeking prayer and wisdom from God that is so problematic?
The first glaring thing in Mr. barber’s statement is the use of the word heresy. We overuse this word in our culture so it’s no surprise that someone would call just about anything heresy these days. However, for a pastor to use this word in such a poor way is surprising. Heresy, in its original Greek form, means:
“A self-chosen opinion, a religious or philosophical sect, discord or contention.”
This word carries with it the connotation of “going one’s own way.” In other words, the word denotes a person or group that intentionally deviate from Scripture and go their own way. It can hardly be said that this group of people praying for the president are engaging in anything heretical. In light of verses like 1 Tim. 2:1-3 it appears that these faith leaders and other people are in fact adhering to Scripture by praying for their civil leader. Using a word like heresy to describe this activity is clearly improper.
It’s also worth noting that, historically, in order for something to be deemed heresy, an ecclesiastical body must have met and come to a consensus that an action or person is indeed heretical. It doesn’t seem that such a meeting occurred.
And what about that verse, 1 Tim. 2:1-3? I wonder if Mr. Barber has ever read this verse:
“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior.” (1 Tim. 2:1-3)
It seems, according to Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, that praying “for kings an all those who are in authority” is something that “pleases God our Savior.” Not only are we told that we should pray for those in authority, but we are told that when we pray for those in authority we are doing something that pleases God. Surely Mr. Barber has read this verse, even taught this verse to his congregation. How would he explain his statements in light of this verse?
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins speculated on why Barber might be upset:
“Obviously, Barber wasn’t nearly as upset about the prayer as he was about evangelicals’ access to the president they helped elect. Had a photo surfaced of Christians praying over [former President] Barack Obama, I guarantee the reverend’s response would have been far different.”
Maybe it’s as simple as partisan politics. But I certainly hope that a pastor would not allow his politics to drive him to say things that are patently unbiblical. I’m not a fan or supporter of President Trump. I didn’t vote for him and still believe that his character and moral deficiencies disqualify him from being president. However, I pray for him. And I teach my kids to pray for him. Not because I agree with him, but because it is the biblical thing to do, it’s the same thing I did for President Obama.
At a time when our nation is divided it seems wise for pastors to be beacons of unity in their words. This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with policies and oppose certain actions. When a person says or does something in opposition to God’s Word it is always prudent for Christians to speak up, even when that person is the president. But to make clearly unbiblical statements about a group praying for the president is nothing short of spiritual abuse. It is abusing the office of a pastor.
As Christians, culture or people do not drive our theology. We don’t change our theology based on who is in office and whether we agree with policies or not. You don’t have to like the fact that Donald Trump is president, and you don’t have to agree with his policies. I found myself often disagreeing with the pro-abortion policies of President Obama. But, as Christians, we are to respect our leaders, and we are to pray for them. This is a biblical commandment.
I hope that regardless of who is in the Oval Office that Christians will faithfully pray for our president. We should pray for God’s wisdom and leading for our commander-in-chief. And, if we find ourselves disagreeing with his policies because they stand in opposition to God’s Word, we should pray for God to change his heart. Our responsibility is to pray and respect our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-3, Rom. 13:1), what happens after that is God’s decision.