This Sunday, hundreds of Christian leaders and congregations across the US will join Franklin Graham in a special day of prayer for President Donald Trump.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association president, who prayed at Trump’s inauguration, said that the president needs prayer to “protect, strengthen, encourage, and guide” him in the face of political attacks.
He cited the call to pray for leaders from 1 Timothy 2:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (v. 1–4)
Beyond a designated day of prayer, many congregations include political leaders in their weekly petitions during Sunday gatherings. As they pray, leaders often emphasize God’s sovereignty over earthly kingdoms, unity in the body of Christ, and our desire to see goodness and flourishing in our country.
Some US Christians have questioned whether national calls to prayer around certain issues or leaders “politicize” prayer to partisan ends. Each year around holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, leaders caution against conflating patriotism and worship. (This year, the National Association of Evangelicals has focused on the Great Commandment [Matt. 22:37–39] for its “Pray Together Sunday” over the July 4 weekend.)
Many of the president’s evangelical advisers have signed on to Sunday’s day of prayer, including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, and Paula White, who also referenced the 1 Timothy 2:2 verse as she invited followers to join.
Though the verse does not appear in the top 100 on Bible Gateway, searches for the passage have spiked along with recent political events, reaching 10 times their average on the day after the 2016 presidential election, according to the popular Bible site, and increased again around the inauguration the following January, according to Google Trends.
CT asked several Christian leaders what it means to pray for our political leaders according to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and president of the National Day of Prayer task force:
As a pastor of Southern Baptist churches for more than 40 years, I do not recall a time when there wasn’t prayer for our nation, our president, and our elected leaders during our Sunday services, regardless of which party was in power. Why? We are instructed in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for those in authority—our elected officials at every level of government—to govern wisely that we may lead tranquil and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Our nation desperately needs a revival of loving one another as Christ loves to impact our own homes and then extend to the church house, to city halls, to state houses, to the halls of Congress, to the White House, and to permeate the halls of justice at every level.
Sandra Glahn, interim chair and associate professor of media arts and worship at Dallas Theological Seminary:
When Paul urged making intersession “for rulers and those in authority” (v. 2), he followed up with his rationale. It wasn’t so Christians would have better economics, more political power in the Senate, more cultural influence for sound laws, or any other sort of worldly gain. He said to pray so that believers might “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2:2–4). Emperors were in the limelight; he wanted the church to aspire to quiet lives. Emperors were immoral; he wanted the church to be godly and holy. Emperors were ignorant of the truth; Paul wanted the church to be unhindered in spreading the Good News. So a great way to pray for our president is that he would look to Christ as Savior, live a righteous life, and exercise his authority in such a way that our gospel work can flourish unhindered.
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC):
1 Timothy 2:1–2 calls us to pray for all people including those who are in authority. I have had the honor of praying with and for elected leaders from all political parties including President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush. Scripture affirms it is good and appropriate that we pray for our elected leaders, independent of political party. I pray that political leaders allow for God's guidance. Our prayers should include the requests that elected leaders govern with justice, mercy, truth, integrity, and humility. Our prayers should include President Trump, Vice President Pence, the Cabinet, the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and all the members of the Supreme Court, that they would legislate and execute laws that lead to justice, peace, and flourishing, ever-mindful that our gospel allegiance should transcend partisanship and that like us, every president, administration, and Congress are in need of prayers.
Amy Peeler, associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College:
I agree that we should pray for our leaders, including the sitting President, according to 1 Tim 2:2. It is a rather comprehensive encouragement. We do not have a king, but this text calls us to pray for “all those who are in authority.” The reason for the prayer is so that Christians can live a quiet life, one that includes living in godliness and reverence (1 Tim 2:2). This prayer in the Roman Empire would have been a prayer for freedom from persecution, so that they could worship God peacefully. I would join in a similar prayer today. Not that our President could be “emboldened,” but that God would direct him. The aim of my prayer would be that all people, including Christians, could practice our faith in peace, including doing things like giving water to immigrants.
Megan Hill, author of Praying Together:
Paul here commands us to pray for “all people” (1 Tim. 2:1), making the point that the church should not ignore any category of people in prayer. Too often, we complain about our civil leaders or shrug them off in disgust. Paul says we must intercede for them before the Lord. This reminds us that the authority of kings is not ultimate. Both rulers and citizens must bow before a sovereign God and must look to him for help. As King Solomon knew: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Also, prayer awakens concern for people who seems unlike us. No matter how different their situation, kings—and presidents—need all the same things we need ourselves: daily bread, repentance over sin, and love for Christ. Let us pray.
M. Sydney Park, associate professor at Beeson Divinity School:
Most surely, every Christian should pray for those in governing authority, as I am sure many do especially for the current president. Yet, the prayers Paul encourages aim toward conversion to faith and pointedly, “to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim. 2:3), not as Franklin Graham suggests, to condone unrighteous behavior demonstrated by President Trump nor to evade just repercussions under the law. The same prayer should be offered on behalf of Franklin Graham, as he has misrepresented the evangelical faith by endorsing a man who cannot be defended by non-Christian ethical standards, let alone those of evangelical faith. Isaiah’s indictment should be heeded in these turbulent times: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa 5:20).
Alan Cross, writer and pastor at Petaluma Valley Baptist Church:
It is right and good to pray for our leaders. But, prayer, petition, and intercession do not mean unwavering support and affirmation. They can also mean that we plead that God intervene and make things right and that he sets crooked paths straight. We pray that our leaders lead well so that peace will proliferate, creating a good environment for the church to live rightly before God and proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus to all people everywhere. A call to prayer for our leaders should never be promoted as political support, but rather as prophetic intercession where we ask that God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.