I’ve long kept a prayer journal. I write in it as a part of my morning prayer discipline. The written prayer has developed a set form over the years.
First, I write down three prayer sentences.
The first one is a traditional entreaty known as “The Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The second is a line from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The third is what I call my “Gethsemane Prayer”: “Lord, our lives are in your hands. Not our will, but your will be done.”
Then, I write down the day’s praises and petitions.
Finally, I write down another prayer sentence that’s lifted straight out of the Bible and that I call my “Reality Prayer”: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Lately, I’ve had some problems praying the line from St. Francis’s prayer. I guess I’ve been pondering my possible hypocrisy.
I’m not sure I’ve been an instrument of God’s peace during this election cycle.
Some of my friends and acquaintances have been surprised to see me take a stand on social media in opposition to Donald Trump’s campaign for President of the United States. The matter came to a head for me when my Good Wife expressed disappointment at some very negative words I used in a blog post to describe Trump. She’s my biggest encourager, but she’s also second on my list of moral compasses, trailing only the Lord Jesus Christ. So when she expressed concern, I took notice. I also toned down the blog post.
“I’m just not accustomed to you being so political,” she said.
And I have been much more open with my opinion this year than in any election since 1980, when I drove around with a Carter-Mondale bumper sticker.
I think one reason I’ve felt freer to express my views this time around is that I’m no longer identified primarily as a local church’s pastor. During the three decades that “pastor” was my main vocational identity, I tried to be sensitive to the fact that people might interpret my political endorsement as the church’s, try as I might to insist that I was speaking only for myself. Besides, my electoral preference was always different than that of the vast majority of the members of the churches I served, so I couldn’t speak for them, anyway.
The Lord works in mysterious, and sometimes frustrating, ways.
I was also, despite what many others in my denominational family thought of me, a committed Baptist, and a commitment to the separation of church and state is, also despite what many in my denominational family think, a hallmark of the Baptist tradition. I really believed that churches and their pastors should not endorse candidates for public office. I know the IRS can take away the tax-exempt status of a church that does so, but that didn’t matter to me nearly as much as the principle did.
I’ve even preached sermons about how churches and pastors shouldn’t take sides in political campaigns. When I preached such sermons, though, I’d sometimes say that I could imagine a scenario in which I’d be forced to take a stand. I’d say something like, “If a candidate ever comes along whose ideas, policies, words, and actions are so opposed to and so potentially detrimental to the foundations of American life and to the pursuit of peace that his or her election would pose a danger to the nation, I hope I’ll have the courage to say so.”
I’d like to think that, were I still a full-time pastor, I’d have risen to that challenge this time around. I can’t know for sure.
As it happens, I’m doing different things with my life. I’m still a Christian, a Baptist, and a minister, but writing and editing are my main jobs now. So I’ve written and shared lots of words about why I believe Donald Trump shouldn’t be the next President of the United States.
To say so can make me appear divisive. It can make it appear that I don’t value peace in my personal relationships or in our community relationships.
That’s why I said earlier that I wasn’t sure I’ve been an instrument of God’s peace during this election cycle.
But I’m also not sure I haven’t been.
You see, sometimes a quest for short-term peace can be short-sighted. And sometimes a quest for long-term peace can result in a short-term lack of peace. I believe that, at this point in our history, it’s worth sacrificing some short-term peace for the sake of long-term peace.
During the build-up to the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah chastised the prophets and priests who declared “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). They told the people that everything was fine when it wasn’t.
Now, the fact is that many of my family members and friends are Trump supporters (and/or Hillary despisers). And many of them have been quite vocal on social media about their opinions. I suppose that one could make a case that, in the interest of peace and for the sake of love, I should have kept my opinions to myself. But the fact is that I believe that Trump’s election would be an unparalleled political disaster for my friends and family members.
So it is precisely because I love my family members, my friends, and my country that I have been willing to endure (and even create) some conflict for a while for the sake of what I pray will be a chance for greater peace in the future.
I am truly sorry for any offense I may have caused, particularly to my loved ones.