If we prayed more for our governmental leaders perhaps some of the divisions in America would be healed. As many as 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians (ABC News poll, July 2014). 50% of Americans say they pray every day. Of those who pray, 82% pray for family and friends. 40% say they pray for enemies or those who have mistreated them, but only 12% pray for government leaders (Christian Century, October 29, 2014). Clearly the lack of prayer for leaders reflects disillusionment with politics for many reasons, but the New Testament tells us that government leaders are appointed by God for order, for peace and for the good of society:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1). Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:17).
When I was a parish minister I used the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal / Anglican) as the model for my pastoral prayers, so I regularly prayed for leaders at all levels of government, including international leaders. I do not believe that our prayers can twist God’s arm to do things not in God’s plan, but I do believe that prayer can change our attitudes and behavior by aligning us with that plan. In the New Testament texts cited above, there is a presumption that government is for the good of the people and, as Christians, we are to support efforts towards that end. If the purposes of government become evil, then we are to stand against it.
The partisan nature of American politics today may be quite venomous, but, according to Jesus (Matthew 5:44), even if we count our opponents as enemies we should pray for them. The media describe the battles between left and right as culture wars and the rhetoric is certainly bellicose. Rush Limbaugh recently said that the President had decided not to close our airports to people arriving from African nations affected by Ebola because Americans deserve to share the Ebola epidemic due to our complicity in slavery. How sad it is that things have degenerated to this level.
I prayed regularly for President George W. Bush at the same time I disagreed with many of his policies. But I came to appreciate some of the good he accomplished such as introducing prescription drug coverage for elders and disabled, and arranging affordable drugs to combat AIDS in Africa. I am distressed by the negative onslaught against President Barack Obama. He may not seem to be as inspiring a leader as FDR or JFK, but he undertook the presidency at one of the lowest points in our nation’s history and helped to pull us from the brink of economic disaster. His Affordable Care Act has been a move in the right direction. He has ended two major wars. Yet he is given no credit for his achievements in the face of the most divided Congress in history.
Praying for government leaders involves a more respectful attitude on our part, even if we disagree strongly. Praying for someone brings awareness that we are all part of a greater whole, not enemies on different sides of an unbridgeable chasm. Instead of thinking in terms of “us and them” as enemies, prayer will help us think in terms of “we” as an indivisible nation and also as “we”, one world, one human family under God. As Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father …”