Praying for the President

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I
have a confession to make: I am a very bad Christian.

Oh,
I believe that I am saved solely by my faith in God’s Grace, and
that Jesus was that Grace made manifest. I believe, and do my best
to live on a daily basis, that my neighbor is my brother and that
I am obligated to reflect God’s Love and Grace as best I can. I
know — not simply believe — that God’s Grace is all that is truly
real and truly lasting in this world.

But
however much I try, I am still a bad Christian, because I cannot
bring myself to pray for "our president."

Well,
that’s not entirely true. I sometimes, when I am feeling charitable,
ask God to make Bush Jong Il go away, to leave us all in peace,
and never bother us again. I asked the same for Bill Clinton. And
Bush Il Sung (though I did not call him that at the time). And should
Kerry get to be president, I suspect I will find myself pretty quickly
praying for him to go away as well.

It
is about as charitable toward human leadership as I will ever get.
Free men and women do not need to be led. Nor do we need to be governed.

I
have never prayed for leaders. Not while I was Muslim (from 1988
until earlier this year). The Muslims I prayed with never prayed
for the corrupt kings and venal presidents of their part of the
world anyway. We prayed, instead, for the mujahedin of whatever
places were at war at the time — Bosnia, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir.
They needed our prayers more anyway. (The causes seemed significantly
more noble at the time than they would later…)

And
I have not prayed for leaders as a Christian either (Martin Luther
was a brilliant man, but I have a hard time swallowing his ideas
of government). I simply cannot bring myself to.

Now,
I know God’s Grace applies even to the arrogant and powerful. I
understand this, and I am glad that God’s Grace is so great that
it applies even to the ambitious, the cruel, the venal, the capricious,
the craven, the misguided, and the powerful. Were it me, well, I
wouldn’t be so merciful. I am grateful the burden and the judgment
are not mine. Most days, I have enough to worry about taking care
of myself.

If
ever there was a world when a man (or woman) who did not want power
but achieved it through no effort of their own, we surely no longer
live in that world. It is impossible, today, for a noble prince
or princess of conscience to become a leader by accident. Everyone
who aspires to become president or prime minister must strive for
that power, must reach for it, must yearn for it, must lust after
it. They must want that power. Badly.

And
by wanting that power, they must believe that murder and theft —
because that’s what government is — are the best way, or
the only way, to accomplish things.

So
I’m sorry, part of me is completely convinced that those who have
the power, or aspire to wield the power, of life and death over
other human beings — the power to rob men and women of their lives,
their liberty, and their property with impunity — voluntarily
separate themselves from God’s Grace. Part of me wants desperately
to believe there can be no forgiveness nor divine mercy for those
who seek, grasp and wield that kind of power over other human beings.

I
know I’m wrong. And I thank God that I am wrong. But it’s a struggle
every day to remember that.

Supporters
of our uniquely American form of caesaropapism — a Calvinist caesaropapism
that believes that God chose us to either herald in the millennium
or fulfill scripture — like to cite Romans 13 as the foundation
for their misguided and idiotic nationalism. It was that way in
the early 1980s, when I was a young teenager full of pre-millennial
dispensationism. If you questioned Ronald Reagan, missile defense,
Central America policy, or the battle against the Soviet Union,
Paul was trotted out and the correction administered. Obey and love
your leaders because God says so.

(Funny,
was Carter’s presidency or Clinton’s defended in the same way by
the same people? I don’t know, but I rather doubt it…)

So
I’m glad to see so little has changed, and that Paul’s call for
"Every person to submit to authorities in power, for all authority
comes from God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him"
is still useful to compel obedience to a Republican president and
demand devotion and allegiance to the United States of America as
God’s chosen nation. I’m glad to see the idea of theocratic kingship
is not only alive and well, but healthy and happy and snuggled down
deep in the GOP. It’s nice we have something other than the desire
for authentic self-government to keep us warm at night.

Now,
I’m not inclined to like Paul very much (never have), though I have
grown to appreciate his writings over time. Especially when he writes
about Grace. He’s at his best when he writes about Grace.

Take
a look at the passage. I’m no expert on Biblical Greek (my Qur’anic
Arabic is much better), but I don’t see any mention of the United
States of America, of the Republican Party, of Ronald Reagan, or
of Bush Jong Il (sorry, bad habit). Paul speaks of governments —
in the plural. Now, maybe he is distinguishing between the
city of Alexandria, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the host of
federal authorities loitering nearby astride both banks of the Potomac,
but I doubt it. As I read the passage to obey "existing authorities,"
it could just as easily apply to Soviet Communist Party politburos,
Saudi kings, Iraqi Ba’ath Party dictators, French presidents, and
North Korean Dear Leaders.

Paul
merely seems to be commanding the faithful not to rebel against
authority if they don’t absolutely have to, and maybe even not
at all (I see little wiggle room for rebellion, even against
English kings, so where that puts George Washington, Patrick Henry
and the Adamses is anyone’s guess). And given the nature
of the Roman state and how it treated rebels, that probably wasn’t
bad advice. But the rest of the chapter reminds us of what is truly
important — "the debt of love you owe one another” and “Love
cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the
law."

Hardly
a call to worship the state and the leader and believe they are
the articulation of God’s will on earth. Hardly a demand to bow
down before that state and voluntarily sacrifice your life and wealth
for your “leader.”

Still,
I want to be a good Christian. Mr. Bush is my neighbor. I pass his
house every morning on the way to work and can see it from my office
window. I owe him the same charity I owe any neighbor.

So
I will pray for him.

"Lord,
grant President Bush the wisdom to see and understand his many errors.
Especially those that have led to the deaths of many thousands of
human beings, children of Yours equally worthy of Grace and Forgiveness.
Grant him the wisdom to resign, that he may serve You better in
humility and peace. Make sure no one takes his place."

"Amen."

October
21, 2004

Charles
H. Featherstone [send
him mail
] is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing
in energy, the Middle East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer
in Alexandria, Virginia.

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