About six or eight years ago, I remember being astonished and dismayed to learn that some of my fellow pro-life workers refused to pray for then-President Barack Obama. There weren’t many of them, but there were enough to leave me dumbfounded. These people were mostly devout Christians of various traditions, who were familiar enough with their Bibles to have come across 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (“I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity.”) The Holy Spirit speaking through St. Paul makes clear that prayer for those in positions of authority in government should be prayed for, which was why I included prayer for the president in my morning and evening prayers every day.
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But even beyond the Scriptural command, there is the issue of empathy. I disagreed with much of what President Obama stood for and most of his policies, but he was still a fellow human being in a position of tremendous responsibility and associated pressure. Regardless of how much or little I agreed with him, I wanted him to know God’s blessing and come to see His face for all eternity. And though most of my pro-life friends shared that viewpoint, the few who didn’t were distressing.
They were certain that they know all about Barack Obama. He was one of Them. He was one whose policies and appointments we were fighting (which was often true). He was the Enemy, not to be tolerated or accommodated in any way, even in prayer. Obama was evil, and there was even some question about whether he was the Antichrist himself. He opposed everything we stood for, and as such was outcast, wicked, and (essentially) beyond redemption.
What these people (again, a small but vociferous minority) had done was to start viewing the world through the lens of their politics – a very easy thing to fall into when you spend more time listening to cable news than immersing yourself in Scripture. They knew all about Obama, having been informed by their preferred news feeds and online columnists, and were convinced that he was not to be supported or favored in any way. They might have mouthed a cursory prayer (“We pray for all in civil authority…”), but they would not have prayed for President Obama by name, and certainly wouldn’t have truly intended God to bless him.
The most tragic thing about this situation was that these people didn’t realize the degree to which they were imperiling their souls. They were engaging in the very thing Jesus forbids in the Sermon on the Mount – i.e. judging the heart of another. While it is true that some of what Obama did and promoted could be rightly judged as opposed to God’s moral law, to extend that judgment to presume to know his motives and the state of his heart before God was to sit in the seat of God Himself – something that Jesus strictly forbid. Furthermore, to presume that Obama was beyond redemption, effectively damned already, was the highest kind of presumption.
What these people were forgetting was that when St. Paul wrote those instructions to Timothy, as well as verses like Romans 13:1, the “high authority” in question was the Roman emperor Nero. Yeah, him. If there was any party who did not deserve prayer by his actions and attitudes, it was Nero. Yet the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write that anyway, and St. Timothy certainly obeyed, and Christians have been obeying ever since.
That’s the important thing. We live in contentious times, and judging the heart and motives of others is the stock in trade of much public commentary. These few people I mention had been so swayed by all they were taking in that it had eclipsed what the Lord had clearly instructed them to do. I took it as a reminder to me of where my primary responsibility lies, and to entrust all judgment to the Lord. What evil Obama has done, he will answer for – but the witness of Scripture is that I should be much more concerned about the evil I have done, and the answering I will do. In light of that, there should be nobody on the face of the earth I refuse to pray for.