By Randy Alcorn
Oregon based author
Eternal Perspectives Ministry
In my previous blog post, I shared a letter from Pastor David Platt, who publicly prayed for President Trump when he came unannounced to last Sunday. When we posted a link to the article on my Facebook page, there were a lot of comments, many of which were bewildering and saddening to me.
I’m not talking about mere disagreement, which is normal and which I welcome; this was something far deeper than differing opinions. This will be a longer blog than normal, because I believe there is much to be said, and it’s important.
One commenter wrote, “I am having a hard time figuring out how the act of prayer ‘hurt’ people in the congregation. There are very hard things that require preaching, this pastor probably avoids them. Sad.”
Another wrote, “He was doing what God biblically instructed and his church members are complaining and whining!!!! Whaaat??? THIS is what’s wrong with the church. Follow the Bible NOT your members. Extremely disappointed in this pastor.”
Yet another said, “Sensitivities??? Church members who in any way objected should be admonished, not appeased.”
Based on dozens of comments that were made defending praying for the president, I followed up to clarify that no one’s objection was to praying for President Trump! Like many churches, McLean regularly obeys the command of 1 Timothy 2:2, to pray for those in authority, as Platt clearly stated. We should pray for every president. That is not even slightly controversial. I suggested that I thought the issue of discomfort of some in the church was not about praying for the president, but about the possibility that a political leader showed up to be prayed for publicly rather than privately as an attempt to use the church and the pastor for political purposes.
I don’t know the president’s heart in why he asked to be prayed for publicly rather than privately. God knows, but we don’t. It might reflect a sincere spiritual desire, and I certainly hope it does. But I was defending Platt’s choice to honor his request for public prayer, and take advantage of the opportunity to privately share gospel truth with him as well.
A Double Standard?
As I said in my first post, I believe David Platt, under exactly the same circumstances, would have done the same for President Obama. Had he done so, I suspect some who are saying no one should oppose prayer for the president might have said, “David Platt and his church and its platform were used to promote a liberal president with this contrived photo-op. As a pastor he should be ashamed of himself. If Obama wanted prayer, why didn’t be come to the pastor privately? Why make a big show of it? And why didn’t he show up to hear the sermon from God’s Word?”
Had David Platt then written a letter saying he didn’t mean to cause disunity in the body by having President Obama on the platform, would that letter have been viewed differently by those of different political persuasions? I think so.
The hot-button nature of politics in our country is exactly why I came to the defense of David Platt, who managed to offend people simultaneously on both sides of the political aisle. With the high profile pastors who have been exposed for sexual immorality, financial impropriety, and bullying their churches, I want to stand with the many good-hearted, Bible-believing, Christ-centered, grace-and-truth filled pastors out there. I don’t put David Platt on a pedestal; of course he makes mistakes, just like I do. But in this situation I believe he did it right—especially since he had no time to call for a meeting of leaders or congregation to discuss what to do.
In other words I disagree with both the liberals and the conservatives who have been roasting, belittling, and demeaning Platt for just being a pastor seeking to honor Jesus, respecting the biblical call to pray for leaders, and caring for his church flock with a commendable sensitivity in keeping with 1 Peter 5 and other passages.
I was struck by the scores of commenters saying that we should not apologize for praying for a president. But I have never heard any Christian say we shouldn’t pray for a president! Acting like some believers are against prayer for our leaders is a straw man argument against people who don’t exist. This obscures the real issue, which is much more difficult: do we believe we should welcome any president who requests standing on a church platform to be prayed for, and then to shake the pastor’s hand, knowing this will result in major news coverage?
Personally, I think the answer is yes! If the president, or any future president, shows up in your church, I hope your pastor will do what David Platt did. Now, if you have advance notice and can request a private meeting, sure, that’s better. And if he shows up in a public meeting, I don’t think he should speak, since a church platform is for worshipping God and preaching His Word, not for the promotion of personal or political agendas.
I think what I’m suggesting is a helpful question for both those who are outraged about President Trump being on the church platform and those others who are outraged that some in the church didn’t like or understand what happened. The question for both sides is this: Would you have viewed it differently—either negatively or positively—if it had been President Obama instead of President Trump?
If so, does that mean 1 Timothy 2:2 should be obeyed only when we like someone and not when we don’t? Isn’t this a double standard that shows a serious disregard for the meaning of that passage? Don’t brush this off. I think we all need to examine our hearts in this.
I’m grateful for a couple of conservative commenters who thought this through and realized they would have responded much differently to President Obama appearing on a church platform than President Trump doing so—just as many liberals who opposed what happened would have been happy with it had it been President Obama. The lesson is that even when we quote Scripture, we tend to apply it differently when we like or dislike the particular political leader.
Not an Apology
Despite it being repeatedly said (and reported) that he did so, in his letter of explanation, Platt did NOT apologize or say he was sorry he had prayed for the president. Rather he tried to clarify what happened and why, while showing understanding for his people who didn’t agree. Still, the Facebook comments about my blog were filled with those who insisted he apologized for praying for President Trump:
“I just read that your Pastor Platt apologized for praying for Trump?! That breaks my heart as I’m Christian and we should NEVER apologize for our prayers!”
“No Christian, and certainly no pastor, should ever regret and then apologize for praying for anyone in public, especially for the President of the United States who came to his church as a guest of his own accord. I am appalled that David Platt would do so. This is a big issue, giant actually, and the wicked liberals are dancing in delight at what Platt did.”
“Why would ANY pastor feel the need to justify a public prayer for any government leader? The tone of this blog saddens me and demonstrates the extremely weak condition of many churches in America today.”
“There was no need to justify praying for the President. President Trump is our President. Being sensitive or whatever the politically correct word is these days to non-Trump supporters is ridiculous.”
What does it say about our culture (and our church culture) that merely explaining something to your church with a display of kindness is perceived as apologizing (which is seen as weakness)?
I continue to support Pastor Platt both for praying for our president and sharing the gospel with him, AND for being sensitive to the fact that there are some in his multicultural church who were hurt by what was interpreted by them as an endorsement of a political agenda, some of which they consider hostile and threatening to people like themselves and their families. This pastor loves his WHOLE church and is concerned to shepherd them tenderly and to teach them to follow Jesus, and become Christ’s disciples. This is his primary goal, not to make people into good conservatives or good independents or good liberals.
I am grateful for the many pastors like David Platt who put Jesus and His church before any political agenda, and who say to His people with the apostle Paul, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). I truly love my earthly country, the U.S.A., but I love God’s Kingdom more. Pastors and believers who get this backwards end up undermining the Gospel and committing idolatry by putting their political agendas in the place of God. While I am theologically conservative and prolife and more often politically conservative than liberal, I am very aware Jesus did not say “Follow Conservatism” or “Follow Liberalism.” He said, “Follow me.”
God’s Word and Our Words
As I read through the 330 or so Facebook comments on Wednesday’s blog, I was particularly troubled by the mischaracterizations of and harsh accusations against David Platt made by people who clearly know nothing about him. He is a Christ-centered, Bible-based, and humble brother. We all know pastors aren’t perfect, but a number of things that were said about David in the comments do not reflect an accurate understanding of what actually happened and what David Platt said, and who he is. In fact, a number of these things are just plain false. What people said about me bothers me far less than what they said about him:
“Can’t stand David Platt and respect him less now. I actually thought he did an amazing job with his prayer, but then after finding out he apologized to his congregation later made me disgusted. He’s pandering to his liberal membership and he himself is a social justice warrior.”
“Your view, Randy Alcorn, makes me wonder about you. Yes, I am disappointed in you. What David Platt did has damaged him in the eyes of Bible-believing Christians but now he will be elevated by the political leftists. Who does he serve?”
“I totally disagree. He did nothing to apologize for. Just yielded to pressure. Shame on you David.”
“Mr. Platt should resign and take the malcontents with him. What a disgrace.”
“Weak and pathetic excuse for a ‘pastor.’ He obviously cares more about the $$ that is funneled into his wallet from his so called Christian congregation than he cares about doing what the Bible instructs us to do……pray for our leaders, pray for one another! I’m so mad I could spit!”
I do not know the hearts of all the people I’ve quoted in this blog. I am not their judge. I have not cited anyone’s names, because I have no desire to belittle them, and in some cases I may be misreading them.
It is painful to say this, but whenever things like this happen, it seems to show that Christians are often just as prone as unbelievers to fail to read, understand, pay attention, listen, or even to think. We draw hasty and often wrong conclusions, jump on bandwagons without an accurate understanding, take offense easily, and lash out quickly. I believe it saddens Jesus to see us trash-talk and ignore and violate a host of biblical passages about misjudging people and being held accountable at the judgment seat for careless words. We seem to have a great eagerness to condemn others.
I say this not with glee, but with a true sense of grief, yet I think Jesus wants me to say it anyway: God’s people are not to be a bickering, angry mob. We are not to be a herd of online bullies, rushing to judgment and egging each other on to defame our brothers and sisters. (Some of whom may well be more faithful and honorable in God’s sight than we are.)
My heart cries out to the Lord to do a transforming work in all of our hearts and lives, beginning with mine. For God’s glory, our good, and the good of a desperate world that needs to know Jesus, may we stop this relentless sniping at each other and become in actual thought and practice what He went to the cross to make us—His pure and spotless bride: “…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
I believe at the core of our quickness to demean and vilify others, including our Christian brothers and sisters, is plain old pride. We trust our own judgment too much, we draw condemning conclusions about others too quickly, and we are way too eager to share our grievances and belittle others. We are in great danger when we do this. God warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
He calls upon us to repent of our pride. He says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5–6).
I say this to myself first, and to readers second: could we please stop exalting ourselves and instead be quick to repent and humble ourselves before Him?
I encourage us all to ponder these Scripture passages, several of them spoken by Jesus, before making ill-informed judgments and speaking untrue words about others:
“I tell you that men will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Jesus, Matthew 12:36-37)
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Jesus, Luke 6:37)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Jesus, Luke 6:37-42)
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jesus, John 7:24)
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3)
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“Be QUICK to LISTEN, SLOW to speak, SLOW to become angry.” (James 1:19)
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (Romans 14:4)
Only One Judgment Seat
Finally, to the commenters who said they can no longer read or recommend my books because of my position in Wednesday’s blog: I believe I should live my life before the Audience of One. Just as you will not stand before my judgment seat, I won’t stand before yours. We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for all our words and actions (2 Corinthians 5:10).
My goal is not to sell more books, nor to be popular with certain demographics, nor to get as many likes on Facebook as I can. My goal is to try to follow biblical principles and faithfully represent my Lord Jesus. Sometimes I fail miserably. In this particular case, having thought it through both before and after reading the comments, I believe I have honored Christ in the position I’ve taken. If that means you can’t read my books or support our ministry, I can live with that.
I hope that more of us will learn in this life, not just after we die, to be better citizens of God’s kingdom. May we see ourselves as part of that magnificent kingdom already in Heaven and growing steadily every day, awaiting God’s New Earth. Those in Heaven are saying this to King Jesus: “Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NLT).
God’s people have lived in various countries at various times, but they set an example for us by seeing themselves first and foremost as God’s children and citizens of His country, which is not yet on earth but will one day fill the earth:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16, NIV).