Monday, January 18, 2021

Praying for America

This week, America makes another shift in her political landscape as we inaugurate the 46th President of the United States. And the rhetoric has been heated for quite some time over this one. And while I don't want to turn this blog into a political debate, we, as Christians, need to talk about American politics. Specifically, we need to talk about the intersection of American politics and our Christianity. 

Because what inevitably happens, and what we've been seeing again, is that Christians start coming out of the woodwork to encourage one another to "pray for America." We have to be praying for America, they say. America has lost her way. America needs to be a nation that turns back to God. And so on and so forth. And of course, in this particular political climate, American Christians have become extremely closely connected with their political candidate or persuasion of choice. 

There is, right now, a giant backlash against the American church, and the Christian faith in general, because of the proudly-professed Christian beliefs entangled with the just-as-proudly-professed politics of those believers. And quite honestly, we just need to stop it. 

That's right. We need to stop it.

It's not biblical. (And thus, it's not Christian.)

There's a lot to say on this mess that we have gotten ourselves into, but let's start here: by and large when we issue a call to 'pray for America,' we aren't doing so in the way that the Bible tells us to pray for our nation. 

There is, most certainly, a biblical mandate to pray for our nation. God says clearly to pray for our leaders, that they would have the wisdom and the moral character to make righteous decisions on behalf of their people, that they would govern justly and well. God says to submit ourselves to the authorities of our nations, for He has put them into place. And God says to pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation where we live, for their peace and prosperity is our peace and prosperity. Yes, my friends, we are supposed to pray for our country. 

But the calls that we see coming out, and the times when we see them coming, indicate that what we're doing is not really praying for our country; we're praying against our country. 

We're being called by other Christians to pray against our leaders as illegitimate, to pray for some sort of change in the winds that would undo what the election has done and put 'better' choices into power for us. Because we didn't vote for the guy, and we don't like him. We're being called by other Christians to pray against the decisions that our leaders are making. Because they aren't the decisions we would make, and we don't agree with them. We're being called by other Christians to pray against things going well for us because we want, for some reason, America to feel the full weight of her sinfulness in electing the guy we don't agree with, who is inevitably going to do things we don't agree with, in order that they might know that we were right all along. 

That's what we're really praying for. We're praying for America, and her leaders, to completely collapse and fail so that our friends, families, and neighbors will for some reason come to the conclusion that we were right and they were wrong. We think that this is the way to get them to vote differently next time, or...I don't even know what we're thinking. 

The point is that all these calls we see to "Pray for America" often encourage us to do exactly the opposite. They encourage us to pray against America because she doesn't look the way that we think that she should look. 

Then, we call it righteous because, hey, we're praying. But this is not the prayer that God has called us to. This is not how Christians are supposed to live in the lands where God has placed them. 

Today, we remember a man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a pastor, a man of deep faith, and he took the hard road toward the America that he wanted to see. He embodied the way that we are supposed to live as citizens of a foreign land (and all land is foreign to us this side of eternity). He fought against the things that he saw were broken in our society, but he did so with eyes - and prayer - toward what America could be. He always had a vision for where we were going and how we were going to get there. He prayed for things like reconciliation and justice, not vindication and justification. He prayed not that he would be found to be right, but that America would be found righteous by embracing the call to something higher. King never once prayed for a change in America that he wasn't willing to make himself, that he wasn't willing to put his own life on the line for. And he never once prayed for America, even in her broken state, to fail; he didn't believe her failure was necessary for her to choose a better way. He believed the Christian witness, the real Christian witness, was enough to call America to something better. And he didn't use politics to do it. He didn't waste his breath campaigning for or against anyone; he spent his life fighting for and with his brothers and sisters, his neighbors. 

That's what we have to do. We simply cannot be a people praying against America. It's not what God has called us to. We have to be a people praying for our country, with a vision for who we can be and who we can become. Not wasting our time campaigning for the politician of our choice, but waging war in the streets against all the things we find broken here - waging war with and for our brothers and sisters, our neighbors. 

We'll continue this discussion tomorrow. 

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