David Platt did not publicly sign on to Franklin Graham’s day of prayer for President Donald Trump. He is not a member of his White House faith advisors, he did not endorse him, and he is not known for weighing in on day-to-day political happenings.
But yesterday afternoon, when the president made a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church, the DC-area megachurch where Platt has served as teaching pastor for the past two years, the Southern Baptist preacher prayed for him from the stage.
Platt cited 1 Timothy 2—the passage Franklin Graham used in his call for churches to pray for the president that day—as he put his arm around Trump and offered a two-and-half minute prayer.
“We pray that he would look to you; that he would trust in you; that he would lean on you; that he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, good for righteousness, good for equity, every good path,” the former International Mission Board president and Radical author said. “Lord, we pray that you would give him all the grace he needs to govern in ways that we just saw in 1 Timothy 2 that lead to peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.”
Platt said in a letter to his congregation that he did not learn of the president’s visit until after he preached the sermon, minutes before the two took the stage together. “Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God,” he explained.
Platt asked that Trump would be granted grace, mercy, and wisdom; that he would know God’s love and that Christ died for his sins; that his family would be blessed; and that other leaders in the government would likewise be guided by God’s wisdom.
The president’s visit had not been publicly announced prior to attending the service in the Tysons area of Northern Virginia, one of a dozen Sunday services McLean Bible Church holds across its six locations. At the afternoon gathering in its largest and flagship location, Trump came in khakis, a blue blazer, and a golf hat, after a morning round of golf at his club in Sterling, Virginia, according to The Hill. (One White House statement linked his visit to prayer for Friday’s shooting in Virginia Beach, but it was not mentioned during Platt’s prayer, and the church is located a few hours away.)
The night before, Trump tweeted to thank Franklin Graham—a vocal supporter—saying, “We will stick together and WIN!” CT reported last week about the evangelist’s campaign to pray for the president this Sunday and asked Christian leaders about Paul’s instructions to petition “for all those in authority” in 1 Timothy 2.
Several fellow Southern Baptists applauded Platt’s prayer, including former SBC president Steve Gaines. The Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter called it a model for “how we can and should pray for our presidents.” But Platt himself noted that some in the church had valid reasons to be hurt by his decision to pray for him during the service.
Platt is in an interesting position. For years, he’s preached against the American focus on “self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency” and “individualism, materialism, and universalism.” And now he’s the pastor of a suburban Washington congregation full of Christians who work on the Hill, a place once deemed “a holy destination for GOP senators and Bush aides.”
“We worship under the banner, not of a country, but under the banner of a King. That King’s name is definitely not Donald Trump,” he told McLean Bible Church in a sermon last Fourth of July weekend. “It wasn’t Barack Obama. It wasn’t George Bush or Bill Clinton. And for that matter, it was never George Washington either. Our King’s name is, always has been, and always will be Jesus Christ.”
Cliff Sims, the former White House staffer who wrote a tell-all about his “500 extraordinary days” with the administration, had attended McLean Bible Church. He said in an interview on Ed Stetzer’s CT blog, the Exchange, that he suggested Platt be invited to a White House prayer breakfast, but Platt worried about the baggage. “When pastors get involved in the political space in a public way, there are drawbacks and it can put pastors in a position where people suddenly view them through a political lens,” Sims said.
Meanwhile it was Paula White who nixed the idea of inviting the pastor. According to Sims, she “said something to the effect of, ‘[Platt] believes that the American dream is evil. The President’s going to be really mad when he finds out that you’re bringing in someone to speak at the prayer breakfast who believes that the American dream is evil.’”
The subtitle of Platt’s 2010 book, Radical, is “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.” As CT wrote in a 2013 cover story about the “new radicals” like Platt, the pastor critiques the church’s willingness to turn the “radical Jesus of the Bible … into the comfortable Jesus of 21st-century American culture.”
Last year, Platt’s Fourth of July sermon emphasized the command for Christians to pray for political leaders they disagree with, including President Trump.
“Some people who held Barack Obama in high honor are having a hard time showing honor for Donald Trump. Others of us have much honor for Donald Trump, but had a hard time showing honor for Barack Obama. Some of us have had a hard time honoring either of them,” he said.
“But brothers and sisters, the Bible doesn’t give us a choice here. This is a command. And if Nero was worthy of honor in the first century, then our president and our leaders are worthy of honor in the 21st century.”
Another earlier message, given last January, mentioned the divide between black and white Christians voting for Trump in the 2016 election in the context of racial injustice.
“I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God,” he said in his letter on Sunday. “While I am thankful that we had an opportunity to obey 1 Timothy 2 in a unique way today, I don’t want to purposely ever do anything that undermines the unity we have in Christ.”
Platt told Trump this weekend that the congregation didn’t just pray for the president on that Sunday, but week in and week out, as Scripture calls Christians to pray for their leaders. He went on to ask the church to continue to pray that the president respond to the gospel as it was shared during his visit. His prayer concluded:
Please, O God, give him wisdom and help him to lead our country alongside other leaders. We pray today for leaders in Congress. We pray for leaders in courts. We pray for leaders in national and state levels.
Please, O God, help us to look to you; help us to trust in your Word; help us to seek your wisdom and live in ways that reflect your love and your grace, your righteousness and your justice. We pray for your blessings on our president toward that end.
McLean Bible Church began as a nondenominational congregation in 1961, then grew in size and influence under Lon Solomon, its pastor from 1980–2017. A year before Solomon retired, McLean Bible Church began affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Platt succeeded Solomon and became installed as “pastor-teacher” in September 2017, then took on the role full-time—stepping away from the IMB—last year.
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