There was a lot of discussion on social media about a prayer gathering that took place in the Oval Office recently. Several evangelical leaders were present—including Southern Baptists Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, Richard Land, Frank Page, and others. Ronnie Floyd was one of two pastors who voiced a prayer as the rest of the group laid hands on President Trump. Jack Graham did an interview on Fox News talking about the gathering. Baptist Press had an article about it.
As you might imagine, reactions to photos and statements released after the time of prayer have been mixed. Those attending were thrilled with the opportunity to pray for the President in the Oval Office. Many shared their enthusiasm with congratulatory tweets and calls to pray for our President. Others though were less than thrilled. Some even resorted to attacking the motives of those present for the time of prayer.
Of course, the question being raised by those with concerns is not whether President Trump is worthy of our prayers. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for our leaders. That’s true regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. The question is whether these leaders are yoking themselves to the President by being present for this meeting, taking part in the photo-op, and posting all over social media about the meeting. Perhaps of even greater concern is whether these leaders are inadvertently providing credibility to false prophet/prosperity gospel preachers like Paula White by participating with her in this time of prayer for the President.
The answer isn’t easy. I can see some validity in arguments on both sides. But the reality is that I wasn’t invited to the meeting. I don’t expect to need to make a decision on whether I will pray for President Trump with Paula White. So whether these men should have attended this meeting is really a moot point for me and most of the readers of SBC Voices.
You and I, however, will have to make decisions regarding what events we will attend, who we will pray with, and how our presence and the ensuing photos may lend credibility to false teachers in our own communities. This was true for me when I pastored in a small rural town in Southern Virginia, and it is true now that I pastor in a growing area about an hour south of Washington, DC.
In my small rural town in Southern Virginia, this issue popped up every November. The churches in town held a Community Thanksgiving Service on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving every year. Some of the participants came from very liberal denominational traditions. Some of the participants came from a charismatic background which had a prosperity gospel flavor to it. There were things about the gathering that made me uncomfortable, but I always chose to participate.
The issue popped up in my new area of ministry last summer. In the wake of some of the shootings that had taken place across the nation, the sheriff’s department in the county where I now live hosted a community prayer vigil. I was new to the community and didn’t know what to expect, but I attended. There were several prayers voiced from the platform. As far as I can remember, all of the prayers voiced from the platform were by those claiming to be Christians. But the event was not promoted as a Christian event. In fact, there was at least one Muslim man in attendance. Though he did not pray from the platform, it seemed clear to me that his participation in the event was not considered strange or unwelcome. It really would not have surprised me if he had been invited onto the platform.
I raise this issue because it’s an important one. Let me raise a hypothetical situation that does not seem unlikely to me. The sheriff’s department calls me one day and asks me to participate in a similar event. They want me to pray from the platform. I assume that this is a Christian event because I have not been told otherwise and I, as a Christian pastor, am being asked to pray. I arrive at the event and discover that the local imam will be praying immediately after my prayer.
It seems that I would have a couple of options at that point:
- Pray without reservation.
After all, I’ll be praying a distinctly Christian prayer which I will end with “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” How could anyone be confused by that? Christians believe that we are saved and Muslims are lost. There is only one way to heaven. His name is Jesus. What difference does it make who else is on the program? This is an opportunity for me to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. I can pray with a clear conscience knowing that the desire of my heart is to proclaim the name of Christ.
- Pray with reservation.
The difference here is in how I feel and what I think about my presence at this event and participation in the program. The situation makes me uncomfortable. Had I known that a Muslim man would also be praying, I would have politely declined. But now I’m here. I don’t want to make a scene. I don’t want to do anything that might give my church a black eye or prevent me from being able to build further relationships in the community. So I step to the podium and offer a distinctly Christian prayer in the name of Jesus.
- Quietly ask to be removed from the program.
I didn’t know that there was a Muslim praying after me when I agreed to participate. I may even feel like the event organizers should have alerted me to that fact when they asked me to participate. This is on them. As a Christian pastor, I cannot risk confusing people in my church or in my community regarding what I believe about the exclusivity of the gospel. Participating in this event will risk leading people astray. So thirty minutes before the event begins I inform the organizers that I cannot in good conscience participate.
Which of these three options best matches what you would do in a similar situation? How would your choice change if it were a prosperity gospel preacher or a Jew rather than a Muslim? I do not have a clear answer. I lean more toward 2 and 3. I would definitely have reservations, but I’m not sure if those reservations would be strong enough to cause me to back out of the event once I was already on the program. But if I knew ahead of time that a Muslim would be praying after me, I would likely just very politely decline.
Help me think through this in the comments below.