You might have heard by now that President Trump made a surprise visit to Maclean Bible Church in Maclean, VA (suburban DC) this past Sunday. Toward the end of the service, the president’s men called the church and said that they’d be arriving soon, seeking prayer from the church, per Franklin Graham’s request for a national day of prayer for the president.
David Platt, the pastor of MBC, is a well-known author, pastor, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. Upon the President’s arrival, Platt called him up on stage, after which he read from 1 Timothy 2, where the Apostle Paul enjoins that all believers pray for rulers and all of those who are in high positions of authority. Finally, he prayed a several-minutes-long prayer for the president, a prayer that was filled with sincerity and Biblical truth, calling on God’s guidance for the leader of the country. It seems that Platt's prayer put on display his commitment to God's kingdom before America; at least that's how it sounded to me.
As hard as it might be to believe (note, sarcasm), Platt’s actions were received with mixed reactions. On the opinion-cesspool that is Twitter, some leaders praised the pastor for practicing the Biblical mandate to pray for the country’s leader; others called it an example of white evangelical leaders “using their platform to prop up the president," and others called it an “embrace of Trump." Those on the other side argued that it was a reason to “smile," while the Gospel Coalition rightly noted and praised Platt’s prayer that “earthly leaders benefit the most when they follow the one universal king over all."
The Pastor's Response
The next day, Rev. Dr. Platt responded with a letter written to his congregation but released to the public (understandable because he is a public figure) apologizing for any hurt he caused to church members by bringing the president on stage. He stated in the letter that backstage he and another pastor were able to share the gospel with the President. He also shared that he was caught off guard by the arrival of the president, so he had to make a decision about what to do quickly. But all of that said, Platt made clear that he remains concerned primarily for those who were hurt by his decision, because he loves his church, and is only trying to "lead 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."
I've been a fan of David Platt's missional focus for a long time; he helped me years ago to learn to think clearly about what it means to be a Christian committed to Christ's kingdom before any earthly entity. I've also not agreed with every one of Platt's decisions - an example being his sermon at Together For the Gospel 2018 where he spoke heavily of the problem of whiteness in American churches, which seemed to me to be his peddling to popular opinion instead of really engaging with the text of Scripture (and he was expositing a text of Scripture). That said, I've never questioned Platt's heart, nor do I forget that, like me, he is a sinner saved by grace. Thus he isn't perfect; since I also am not, disagreements are bound to happen.
That said, I have a few thoughts:
1. Platt's love for God and people is an example to emulate.
It seems today that most Christians are either committed fully to loving God (caring first and foremost about sound theology) or to loving people (even being willing to compromise on Biblical doctrine for "love's" sake). But Platt embodies both the way Jesus said we should (Matthew 22:37-38): his passion for God's glory is obvious, but so is his love for people and desire for them to come to God in truth and thrive living for Him. That permeates his ministry, and it was on display both in praying for the president, the controversial figure that he is, and in his letter to his church, apologizing to them for any hurt he caused.
2. Life doesn't happen on social media.
This also highlights the fact that social media should not and DOES NOT govern the real world. Platt's actions show that a pastor can be a public figure and yet be committed to their local church and God's kingdom above cultural pressure. I didn't read his apology as caving to cultural pressure. I took it as marching to the beat of Jesus' drum, giving honor where honor is due (Romans 13:7, in this case, to the President), but also loving those who may be confused by his actions (a confusion, no doubt driven by the effect of a polarized American society).
3. Peoples' anger over political issues colors their perception of the actions of those who clearly don't have a political agenda.
I was grieved by the response of so many people on Twitter automatically calling Platt's prayer for the president an endorsement of him and all of his policies. But I wasn't surprised. People are angry about so many things today, and social media provides them the outlet to put it out there for the world to see. And even "better," if others agree with them, it entrenches them in that opinion so that it is validated. But Platt made very clear in his letter to his church that he never meant to endorse the President, but just to pray for him. Yet, because people have such vitriol toward the President - and toward the fact that he is still the president three years into his tenure - they automatically assume Platt must be a Trump-supporter. It's been said before that perception is reality. No; perception is subjective. Something looking a certain way doesn't mean it is. Unpopular opinion: you might be wrong.
Let's pursue Jesus' priorities.
My hope would be that we as evangelicals would prioritize Jesus' priorities before what others say we should prioritize. If President Trump (or President Obama, when he was President) were to step into the church I pastor, I would feel honored to be in their presence, and you better believe I'd pray for them publicly (I often thought about this during Obama's tenure). Isn't the church supposed to be a "house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7)?
But pursuing Jesus' priorities means not only questioning those on the other side of the political aisle but also questioning ourselves. That would require humility; and in America, whether conservative, political, or moderate, we don't do humility well.
Lord, start by changing me.