Suppose you were a pastor. (Work with me here.) Suppose you were a pastor and you were given sudden notice that Donald Trump would be stopping by your church (it’s near one of his golf courses) to pay respects to the victims of the recent shooting in Virginia. Your job was to lead the prayer.
What would you say?
Author and evangelical pastor David Platt, of McLean Bible Church, was in that situation over the weekend, and he delivered what amounted to a non-partisan, non-controversial prayer.
But that was the problem.
While the Trump fans in the audience (and beyond) cheered on the photo op, many other people saw the moment as a missed opportunity for Platt to publicly pray for Trump to genuinely repent for his harmful actions. He had a chance to denounce the constant stream of lies, the babies in cages, the name-calling, the racism, the sexual harassment, the bigotry, the deliberate sabotage of our democracy… and instead he delivered a bland prayer that could’ve been delivered for any guest.
Even if you give him all the benefit of the doubt, how can a pastor talk about the need for Christians to stand up against immorality and evil when he refused to do it on the biggest stage of his life?
The criticism against Platt, by Christians, was so overwhelming that he later wrote a post defending his own actions.
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. Today, I found myself in one of those situations.
I wanted to share all of this with you in part because I know that some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons, are hurt that I made this decision. This weighs heavy on my heart. I love every member of this church, and 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. So 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.
1 Timothy 2 calls on Christians to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Platt said he wanted to transcend party and heal the “hurts of racial division and injustice,” but remaining silent is a choice, too. People who claim to be on the sidelines of politics are taking a side: They’re not bothered enough by Trump’s bigotry to speak out when given the opportunity. What Platt did (or didn’t do) was a declaration of privilege, because it suggested that he would be unaffected enough by Trump’s policies to not care one way or the other. This, from a guy who apparently tries hard not to be a “political” pastor.
As Ruth Graham wrote for Slate, “declining to mention politics is itself a political act. And public prayer consists of much more than the text of its message.”
Even beyond that, the prayer didn’t even mention the violent shooting much less call for action on gun safety — and Trump himself didn’t bring it up, which raises questions about whether this visit was really about the victims or about Trump. (Take a wild guess. Spoiler: He only stopped by the church after a round of golf.)
Some Christians were angry that he chose to respond at all. In a now-deleted tweet, Jerry Falwell, Jr. said pastors like Platt “need to grow a pair.”
Platt made his decision, though. When push came to shove, he didn’t stand up for women, or LGBTQ people, or people of color, or anyone else whose lives have been directly affected for the worse by Trump and the Republican Party. He chose to participate in a photo op that only serves to strengthen Trump’s ties to his white evangelical base. I hope Platt is proud of that.
Then again, as a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, Platt has a history of working with people who remain silent when victims need them the most.