When my wife asks me about something in social media, I know it must be important. So when she said, “tell me about Trump showing up at some church” I know whatever happened made it beyond the “too busy” filter and into conversations in bedrooms and around dinner tables in the United States and beyond. This is especially true if you claim to be a Christian in America today.
Per David Platt’s own letter to his church about the incident, President Trump showed up at Mclean Bible Church towards the end of the service. Trump appeared backstage after a sermon he had not heard to receive prayer from a pastor he did not know in front of a congregation he did not belong to prior to a communion he did not partake. I use this phrasing intentionally to underscore the reality that I do not believe that President Trump had any interest in receiving prayer, intercession, or being part of this faith community. If he was anybody else, he would line up after service to pray with designated intercessors, get a contact card and be asked about where he lived so that he could join a small group bible study to get more involved. And because of where Trump is with Jesus, he would have likely been put in an Alpha Course to ask basic questions about his beliefs and be invited to follow Jesus and be baptized as a public sign of this private decision.
But that’s not what happens because pastors in America get played by politicians — because they are pastors, not politicians. And the way that white pastors from white seminaries get trained to pastor white churches is to center white culture. And this is where a line must be drawn. Pastors by and large in America are not discipled out of White American Folk Religion but often baptized and discipled into it.
Now, this is not a pointed criticism of David Platt, his prayer, or intentions. My issue here is not personal, but relational and systemic.
First, no matter how beautiful his prayer or urgent his private dialogue with Trump, I am doubtful that Trump will be encouraged to reflect on what Platt said and few people will read what Platt wrote. This is especially true as time goes by and the photo of Trump and Platt shows up in campaign ads in 2020. His prayer was Christ-centered and oozing scripture, but no one will look it up after they receive a robocall in October with Platt’s voice playing after an impassioned plea by Franklin Graham for the soul of America and right before a command to vote for Donald Trump. Sadly, I think that one of the Christian leaders that I respect most in this country at a church that many I know go to “got played” by a political machine that is out to create a facade of faithfulness as migrants die at the border, mass shootings are normalized, and hate crimes rise against every demographic in our nation due in large part to how this president wields his power and platform.
I want to reiterate that if you haven’t, please take the time to read David Platt’s letter because he is a powerful, faithful pastor. And when you read it, please be reminded that he is that — a pastor. He is not a politician. And he was not shaped from the time he was a child in this country to center the experiences of marginalized people. No matter how fervent he is in his personal desire for white supremacy and other systemic injustices to be addressed, the structure that he is a part of is not seriously interested in seeing that change; and Trump most certainly is not. It is not instinct for Platt and pastors like him in a moment’s notice to consider, how would the female/undocumented/person of color/Muslim/Native person see this? What is instinct is to say, “these were my personal intentions and let me clarify and defend my integrity”. And that is where I believe Christianity and White American Folk Religion part ways.
The question is not, should we pray for leaders, the question is how are we to do that — especially as ministers of reconciliation. It is right to pray for our leaders and I will continue to pray for Donald Trump and all downstream of his leadership; but for the sake of the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will never share a platform with him or any political leader. Because we live not in the United States of America but Divided States of Amnesia remembering what we want to, how we want to and when it suits us.
And though I hope that Trump reads the prayer that Platt prayed and becomes a faithful follower of Jesus in a witnessing community, I know that when the time comes that those around him will remember the leverage they now have. If Trump’s Camp needs a photo op of a well-respected Christian leader who has a reputation of being faithful, he can show up on a Sunday unannounced, to see a pastor he is unaffiliated with, before a congregation he is not connected to, and get what he wants. And it won’t matter that Platt literally wrote a book called, “Radical: Taking Your Faith Back from the American Dream, Trump’s Team knows that just like few voters are going to read Platt’s prayer, even less are going to read his book. And sadly, very few will take Platt’s preaching against idolatry into the ballot box with them.