The 2016 campaign season proved once again how clearly our nation divides herself along political lines.
This year’s discourse among candidates felt less civil as debates degenerated into spectacle. Social media posts and public protests continue to illustrate the contentious divide in our nation.
We are witnessing and possibly participating in a conversation that is disserving and less than Christian.
As a Christ-follower, praying for our newly elected president – and encouraging others to do so – may be the most powerful thing we can do to practice civic leadership and engagement in a divided community.
I do this, in part, because Scripture tells me to do so.
If you take Paul’s letter to Timothy at face value, we conclude that while Timothy may have been at odds with the political policy coming out of Rome, Paul encouraged him to pray faithfully for those who had political authority over him.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
I prayed for President Clinton when he was in the midst of the impeachment process. I prayed for President Bush when our nation was attacked by terrorists on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I prayed for President Obama every time he attempted to console the families of gun violence victims.
These presidential leaders possessed charisma, fear, strengths and frustrations, but each had sworn to uphold our Constitution. If nothing else, I could pray that they knew God’s hand on their lives as they served to fulfill that commitment.
Our president-elect will need the prayers of the church if he is going to have any measure of success in leading our nation.
So will those who serve in his Cabinet and in other areas of influence. Mayors, governors, senators, members of Congress and others could be mentioned by name along with our president on a regular basis.
We do not need to sin against God by failing to pray for them.
Scripture also encourages us to pray for the president and other elected leaders in a way that acknowledges Proverbs 21:1, which says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
When the president or another elected official is morally wrong, we need to pray that God will turn his or her heart.
When our president faces challenges to our national security, we need to pray for the ability to lead so that justice prevails and peace is ensured.
When there are crisis events that demand action, we need to pray that the response be one that is appropriate for the moment and best for the long-term.
As pastors, Bible study leaders, deacons and others begin to pray in public for our elected leaders with words of grace, we are inviting others to pray with us and join in a sacred conversation that has the potential to unite a divided community on the common ground of hope for God’s will and direction.
A greater challenge seems to be in the exercise of free speech, especially in a day when everyone is entitled to the opinion of a blog or social media post.
When those conversations become uncivil and demeaning, they have already crossed the line.
The Christ-follower has a higher and nobler calling. In Paul’s words to the Corinthians, he addresses the boundaries of Christian liberty and provides the principle that helps us find moderation in many areas of life, including the sharing of our opinions.
“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31).
I was surprised by many things during this election cycle, including the result of the presidential race, but in my heart, I don’t believe God was surprised or caught off guard one bit.
Christ-followers have an opportunity like never before to change a national conversation.
It begins with what we say to God and continues with what we say to each other about those elected to serve in the high places of authority among us.
May God find us faithful in our prayers and our speech.
Frank R. Lewis is the senior pastor of Nashville’s First Baptist Church.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles about the inauguration of President-elect Trump, focused on the importance of praying for the new president (and all elected officials), honoring their election and engaging respectfully with our representatives.
The previous article in the series is: