On Platt and Priorities
It's been an amazing past few days watching the fallout from David Platt's prayer over president Trump. When I first heard about the situation and read the transcript of the prayer, my initial reaction was quite positive. This was further confirmed for me when I saw the video. From what I know of Platt, he isn't the type to mark his ministry with political affiliations. In fact, for a guy who wrote a book about being radical for Jesus and pushing against American success, I found his move to pray for Trump quite admirable. Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer provided some further insight into just how far removed Platt is from being a sycophant for Trump. After all, this was the same guy who was conflicted about participating in the president's first prayer breakfast and who last year gave a speech at the TGC conference that ruffled feathers over remarks made about racial equality. I have no idea of his political orientation, but I think it's a safe bet that he's probably not a big fan of Trump. So his decision --and one that was hastily made given the unannounced nature of the visit--to bring Trump on stage and pray according to Scripture was even more commendable. It seemed to me that he prioritized pray and the preaching of the gospel over his own bent.
Apparently, not everyone saw it that way. As the criticism mounted, there was a general consensus that Platt should not have brought him up on the stage. Doing so seemed to give him a priority status that smacked of conflating politics with Christianity. Some believed his presence on the stage to be harmful to women and minorities, especially considering statements that have been made that have racist undertones.
Now, the first charge might have some validity if Platt had prayed a politically charged prayer. However, the content of the prayer appealed to the lordship of Christ and the granting of wisdom in line with the 1 Timothy 2:1-6 passage he read. In other words, there was nothing in his prayer that suggested any kind of partisan interest or political posturing. Platt is far from being of the ilk of evangelicals that court the president. So any criticism in this regard is unwarranted, in my opinion.
However, I am not without empathy for the other reason. I confess, I don't care for Trump and continue to be disheartened that out of all the GOP candidates in the 2016 election, his presidency was the outcome. I confess I am one of those never-Trump conservatives who would have gladly voted for any of the other candidate on that stage (and did as a write-in). Since he came into office, I have vowed to be fair and give credit to where it is due. But do I find his boorish behavior devaluing of the presidential office and his crude remarks towards women and minorities to give credence to the charges of racism and sexism. In short, had I been in that congregation, I would have been uncomfortable, too, especially with the applause that erupted after Platt's prayer.
But here's the thing: in the Lord's house, the greatest priority is to honor Christ, proclaim his lordship and orient the hearts of the congregants towards him. However I feel about a particular individual and whatever I think may have been ill motives on his part, all of that has to be subjected to the purpose for which we are gathered. Yes, Trump crashed a church service and quite possibly for his own political gain and photo op. But that doesn't take away the priority of prayer and preaching the gospel that obviously took precedence for Platt. In his post-service statement that he issued in response to the pushback, he stated, "In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him." Aside from the fact that he was put on the spot (and perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt) I'm puzzled why a prayer that was so thoroughly gospel saturated and honored Christ as king would be so upsetting to God's people, unless of course, our priorities are misplaced.
Sadly, the whole episode of the backlash quite possibly revealed that we have elevated other priorities over Christ's redemption and kingdom purposes. What does it say that we cannot abide by prayer for a sinner that he would look to Jesus and govern wisely according to kingdom precepts? Have we elevated our disdain for Trump above the cause of Christ and the fact that he can turn the most wretched of human beings, or those we deem wretched, into his followers by softening the hardest hearts? When God gave his commands to Old Testament church in Exodus 20, the very first thing he told them (and us), "you shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20:2). That means we give no other agenda above his and place his kingdom paradigm above any socio-political interest.
Christ came to save sinners and he commands his church to make disciples of all nations. If in fact we truly believe that Trump is the worst of the worst, what better opportunity to display the love of Christ by proclaiming the agenda and lordship of Christ over a person we believe in dire need of this heart orientation. Who knows what that prayer on a stage did in his heart. Instead of being mad that Platt made a wrong decision about bringing him on the stage, perhaps we can be glad that Trump encountered a pastor who had no other interest than honoring Christ as Lord above any kind of partisan agenda.
I can't help but wonder if the underlying premise to the criticism is that we really don't believe that Trump is deserving of God's grace and mercy. The book of Jonah is instructive here. God told Jonah to bring a message to the Ninevites about turning their hearts towards him. Instead, Jonah did everything he could to avoid such a spectacle and begrudged the fact that God would ask such a thing. Just like Jonah, who qualified who should receive God's grace and mercy, we might be saying the same thing disguised as anti-partisan interests. But here's a telling clue: would we have the same reaction if the same situation happened and the same prayer was offered over former president Obama?
At the end of the day, our chief priority is to exalt Christ and his agenda. I believe Pastor David Platt did just that.
Lisa Robinson Spencer holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she reside with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church.