Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

Should we pray for President Trump?

First edition of Mayhew's Discourse

Public Domain

First edition of Mayhew’s Discourse

In 1750, a Boston minister named Jonathan Mayhew made his name by preaching that when the Apostle Paul wrote that the powers that be are to be obeyed and honored because they are “ordained of God,” he didn’t mean all the powers that be.

According to Mayhew, Paul’s injunction in Romans 13:1-7 refers to righteous civil authorities but not to unrighteous ones. It “no more proves it to be a sin to resist such rulers, than it does, to resist the devil,” he said.

Published in London as well as in Boston, his Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Power was a best seller, and later was considered to be the first volley of the American Revolution.

It seems relevant for Americans again.

Amidst President Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign, including his signing of an executive order to cut federal funding from sanctuary cities, a good case can be made that this particular civil authority is unrighteous. Obedience to the Trump Administration will soon become problematic for any number of individuals and institutions, secular and religious.

Besides civil disobedience, what about the obligation to honor the powers that be by, for example, offering up prayers on their behalf?

“You should pray for Donald Trump no matter how you voted” ran the Washington Post‘s headline on an Inauguration Day op-ed by Russell Moore, the foremost non-supporter of Trump in American evangelicalism.

Consistently, no matter who is in office, we are to pray for success. That doesn’t mean we pray for all of any leader’s ideas to be realized. But it means that we pray that he or she would succeed, would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society and, particularly, so that the church may “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

And, alluding to Romans 13, Moore went on to say, “The biblical command to render honor also means we cannot in good conscience undermine the legitimacy of our new president.”

That’s all a bit too Pauline for my taste.

The new president has made it abundantly clear what his agenda is, and from the environment and health care to minority rights and the rule of law, it’s a disaster in the making. Not to mention that he is undermining his legitimacy himself by his mendacity, vulgarity, and contempt for ethics.

Thankfully, Romans 13 has no authority in the Jewish tradition.

To be sure, we Jews have been offering regular prayers for government leaders since the Middle Ages. But we also have a rich tradition of complaining to, arguing with, and assailing the powers that be — up to and including the highest one of all.

Consider Psalm 44, a reproachful prayer that asks, “Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?”

Shmuly Yanklowitz, an Orthodox rabbi in Phoenix active in liberal causes, has taken this tradition to heart, replacing the traditional prayer for rulers in order to ask God to avert the evil decrees that appear to be upon us.

Guide the incoming leader of this country away from his basest instincts, thwart his plans to target certain groups and strengthen white supremacy; for You know, God, that all were created in Your image.

We pray that the decrees from the Executive office do not harm the innocent. We pray that any policies that are meant to harm the vulnerable in prioritization of the powerful and privileged will be quashed. Should there be plans that will merely benefit the most privileged Americans, but not all of humankind and the planet we call home, may they fail. May our nation not consort or conspire with totalitarian despots but reaffirm our commitment to freedom and democracy. Grant us the strength to demonstrate spiritual resistance, to imbue our sinews with the highest integrity. Give us the wisdom and courage to do what’s right to protect the most powerless and defenseless in society.

Yanklowitz’s prayer has caused a kerfuffle in Orthodox circles. Shmuley Boteach, the celebrity rabbi who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 2012, tweeted out, “A rabbi rewriting a prayer to attack the POTUS? There is no room for politics in religion, only values.”

Boteach might recall that once upon a time the prophet Amos came down from his sheepfold to declare God’s judgment against Jeroboam and his kingdom: “Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail.”

Praying that the civil authorities not harm the innocent is hardly without precedent in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Mark Silk is scraping the bottom of the barrel again! Here’s this august theology professor and pastor who can’t find anything more pressing to write about, from among the burning moral issues of the day!

    Why SHOULDN’T we pray for President Donald Trump? Imagine if someone had raised the same question concerning Barak Obama, though admittedly praying for one who’s already a deity makes no sense!

    Trump is a frail believer in Jesus Christ, and like all us frail believers in Jesus Christ, has feet of clay. He was an imperfect candidate elected by imperfect people; the same can be said of his opponent and her supporters. He is undertaking a very difficult task at a time when the world is a mess and needs the US to step up and supply some moral leadership once again. Those who lost need to pray for Trump the same as his supporters.

    Mark Silk should attend to his teaching and his congregation and stop begging this question!

  • If we’re going to be praying for anything, I think praying for the United states would be a good place to start. But OTOH…
    Prayer is what yo do when you don’t want to do anything, but prefer to look like you are doing something.

  • I found this an inspiring prayer–go, Rabbi Yanklowitz! And thank you, Mark, for bringing this to the attention of we RNS readers.

  • Silk is neither a pastor nor theologian. For my part, I do pray for Trump, as well as for the nation and the government as a whole. But that prayer notes that it is on behalf of “all who exercise just and rightful authority.” So far Trump isn’t meeting that bar. There is also a prayer that God will “grant them insight into your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly.” He needs a lot of insight.
    The problem I have with R’Yanklowitz’s prayer isn’t that it prays civil authorities do not harm the innocent. This is a very Jewish idea. It’s that it invites literal special pleading for all future and past presidents. It can fairly be asked, should we have prayed that Obama’s “decrees” to the UN Ambassador’s office not harm Israel? That he deport fewer immigrants? Admit more Syrian refugees? That his pardons not reward treason? Going back further, there were many prayers recited for Soviet Jewry. Part of the movement to free Soviet Jews was trade pressure upon the USSR. Should we have conditioned our prayers to say that we pray the US pressures the USSR to release the refuseniks, as long as that pressure does not involve the consorting and conspiring with anticommunist despots we’re already deeply into?

  • I can’t speak to your level of belief–just your level of ignorance as shown by your comment here!

  • Good article, interesting and thoughtful. I think Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’ prayer is very good. Pray-ers ought to pray their throats raw for the president. It can’t hurt and he really needs the help.

    “Amidst President Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign, including his signing of an executive order to cut federal funding from sanctuary cities, a good case can be made that this particular civil authority is unrighteous.”
    Oh yeah. There is nothing Christian about white supremacy, greed, misogyny, and chronic lying.

  • Really? Would you like to explain how my comment is ignorant, or shall we just refer to Trumpee himself?

  • Trump is more like a recent believer, if he actually is at all. If you believe prayer works then by all means pray that he won’t damage our nation.

  • “That’s all a bit too Pauline for my taste,”; what a revelation Mr. Silk. And though Romans 13 has no authority in Jewish tradition, Paul declared himself a past “Pharisee of Pharisees.” Additionally, Romans 13 has great authority among Christians and thus need to approach the issue you have raised from that perspective.

  • You should pray for all leaders that they make wise decisions, that God will intervene, stay or lift up, keep safe but mostly you should pray for their soul, that they may hear and heed the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • I fail to see how the world can be considered a mess. Is it because this country invaded another for no other reason than greed for power and oil? Could it be that this country toppled another government and created a power vacuum? Could it be that this country destroyed life sustaining infrastructure in another and failed to restore it? Where ever the west has attempted to insert itself into a foreign government chaos and genocide has ensued. Look no further than Iran in the 70s and Central American in the 80s.
    This country kicked a hornet nest like a petulant spoiled child and seeks to exact retribution when the stings become too great. Supply some moral leadership you say, any moral leadership had to leave office due to term limits. Sitting in a seat of power is a megalomaniac determined to protect his fragile ego and control the speech that correctly, justly maligns it.
    Pray for the duped voting bloc that gave him his sit via an unpopular vote. When the promised jobs begin to appear, then pray for the hard working leader who made it happen. Feeding the fear of xenophobia is no way to bring back coal, textile, and technology related jobs. Not when this country shifted from manufacturing durable goods in the 80s and replaced it with the business of global finance. A business that feeds those at the top and never trickles down into family supporting employment.
    Until the despot currently occupying the seat of power we call the White House decides to learn from the dangerously meddlesome history that seat holds, he needs no prayers, only ego wrecking condemnation, maligning, and resistance on a grand public display.
    My question for you is, how much have you studied the plutocracy that ruled our past in relation to its recurrence in the 21st century? I ask you these questions as a disabled veteran who has been an avid student of US history since discovering its foul underbelly as a teen.

  • As a Jew, I have a general problem with praying for the leader of our country. It seem like brown-nosing. Jews trying to prove that their just as good Americans as anybody else.

    Trump is a narcissist. I don’t think he cares about anyone but himself. Although, he does care about his image and how he looks to others. I’m not sure how prayers would effect someone like that.

    There really isn’t anything called the Judeo-Christian tradition. It ignores everything in Judaism that came after what Christians call the “Old Testament” even though the “Old Testament” and the Hebrew Jewish Bible are not identicle.

  • Really? even us atheist know it’s Second Corinthians. No one says TwoCorinthians, especially when they claim to be bible believers.

  • We had two choices, two directions. Which would serve your beliefs best? Not only your beliefs but Christians internationally. Will anyone get 100% perfection out on anybody on Earth today?

    We should pray that we have good leaders. Our leaders are a reflection of our values. When our leaders rebel again the Lord of Hosts then we the people are in dire straights.

    Europe rejected Christianity and their leaders have been given over to reprobate minds. So yes pray that we receive good leadership

  • And people who know a lot more than I do, declare He was not. In Las Vegas that’s known as a “push.”

  • The best course of action is to follow the advice of the Rabbi at the beginning of “Fiddler On
    A Roof.” He was asked, “Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?” His answer: “May the Lord bless and keep the Tsar…far away from us1”

  • “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this republican.” — rare variant of Luke 18:11, recently discovered in a basement in Aleppo, Syria, tentatively dated to 2017 CE

  • Pray all you want for President Trump; but if you want to be effective, write, call, or email your Senators and Representatives about the unchristian things President Trump is doing.

  • When in the wide wide world of sports are liberals going to stop trying to get everyone to dance around like a bunch of Kansas City mullahs? Nowadays all the Opie Cuttinghams have color TVs to watch the rodeo. The other day, the liberal media facially and odiously profiled Duck
    Dynasty’s Willie. The morons thought he was Karl Marx.

    Before King James wrote the bible, he was the king of Scotland. When King James, David Hume, and Adam Smith were young Scotsmen. They wore their kilts at their knees, spoke Gaelic and played their bag pipes all day. The English got fed up with the Hatfields and McCoys and shipped them off to Appalachia. King James, David, and Adam pulled up their kilts, learned English, and changed the world. We’re the Scottish Enlightenment shinning city on the hill. Our national anthem is based on an English drinking song about hating the Scots.

    Next time you’re blowing Barry’s bag pipe, pick me up a couple of mouth condoms to keep my feet dry when I go skiing.