“I hope the president-elect does such a great job that I vote for his reelection in four years.” – Tom Hanks, Hollywood actor
As many of you know, Tom Hanks is Greek Orthodox. And, many of you may know that he opposed the election of President Donald Trump. In fact, he was enough of a supporter of causes similar enough to what President Barack Obama supported that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But, the phrase he uttered captures a solid Orthodox attitude. As Saint Paul told us in 1 Timothy 2, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Our Orthodox summary of that is found in the Litany of Peace in the Divine Liturgy where it says, “For our country, for the president, and for all in public service, let us pray to the Lord.” There is another longer prayer found in the Artoklasia where we pray, “Again we pray that He may keep this holy church and this city and every city and countryside from wrath, famine, plague, earthquake, flood, fire, the sword, foreign invasion, civil war and sudden death; …”
But, before I go on, I must make a confession. I agree with Tom Hanks and his pre-election opinions. I did not vote for President Donald Trump. I felt that he would be one of the worst things that could happen to our country. And, I am still afraid that he is. But … but … but, we have responsibilities and callings as Christians that we must fulfill. And, among our callings, duties, and responsibilities, is the responsibility to pray for our country, the president, and all in public service. And, there is a very personal, yet communal, reason for these prayers, “… that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life … .” But, that is not our only reason for our prayers. Both Saint Paul and the Early Church Fathers (and Mothers) give us some additional insight.
“For when does God not reign, in whose hand is the heart of all kings?” – Tertullian, referring to Proverbs 21, “The thoughts of a king are in the Lord’s hand, streams he can sluice which way he wills. His own path man scans, and nothing sees amiss, but the divine balance weighs our thoughts.” We pray for the president so that God may guide his thoughts and we might live a peaceable life (as Saint Paul said). Tom Hanks is right to say that we ought to look forward to four years from now when our hope is that we can vote for the reelection of President Donald Trump. And, that is because, whether Republican or Democrat, our prayer ought to be that President Donald Trump’s thoughts indeed be, “… in the Lord’s hand.” In passing, we also ought to pray that our own thoughts be, “… in the Lord’s hand …” so that we may think correctly about our country and its directions. May God so guide President Donald Trump.
Prayer for those in authority over us does not mean that we agree with them at all times. The martyrs are proof of that. But, praying for our authorities does mean that we recognize that God has placed authorities on Earth and that we are expected to honor them and they are expected to lead us in an honorable manner, defending us against those who would prey upon us. Saint Paul tells us in Romans 13, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore, you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
And, so we tread a fine line sometimes. To not honor government is, in one sense, to not honor God himself, who is the author of government. His intention was that government would protect us from the effects of sin and the brokenness that it has brought into this world. And, so, he delegated some of his authority to government. That is what it means when Saint Paul says that, “… there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” But, the Church is the Body of Christ upon Earth. We represent Jesus Christ upon this Earth, and so we must sometimes speak out to government and say to it that it has departed from the task that God has given it and that it must return to the task to which it has been assigned by God. Rarely, this opposition to the failure of government to accomplish its God-given tasks grows so strong that we may need to disobey government and to realize that this may lead to punishments that range from simple incarceration to full-on torture and death.
Nevertheless, even in our disobedience of government, we never ought to so behave that we give the impression that somehow government itself is less than God’s will for us at this time. Most of us forget that when our Founders decided to declare Independence, they had to struggle internally to come up with a legal and moral explanation of the reasons why they were allowed to rebel. Rebellion is Satan’s sin. Therefore, to disobey government is a very serious matter that ought only to happen after careful thoughts concerning the reasons for the disobedience and/or even rebellion. In fact, the Declaration of Independence states, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Catch what they said, government’s authority is so important that people ought to even be willing to suffer, “… while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” The rebellion of the Founders was a serious matter, not simply because of the obvious dangers, but because of the spiritual dangers of rebellion.
The last eight years have been years when, in my opinion, all too many Christians have made it appear that it is OK to rebel for simple political disagreements. We are in deep danger that the same thing will happen in the next four to eight years. We have an important witness as Christians, and that witness is twofold. On the one hand, we witness against Satan that authority is not a bad thing. We must never act or speak in such a way that implies that rebellion is little more than expressing a divergent political opinion. God has authority. God has delegated authorities. Authority, in and of itself, is neither evil nor bad. On the other hand, we are the Body of Christ. We must speak health, wholeness, and God’s ethics to the government and to remind it that it is appointed by God to protect us from evil and to support the good. Sometimes we must speak as prophets, as the Prophet Nathan did to King David. Most often we must speak in wisdom marinated in love. I recommend you read the story of Saint Brigid of Ireland who became the advisor of kings.
And, so, over the next four years we need to pray for President Donald Trump. We may very well also need to oppose him, as necessary. As someone who agrees with various parts of the Democratic agenda, I probably will. But, even in our opposition, we must never give the impression that authority itself is the problem. At the same time, we must also pray, as we have been commanded by Saint Paul, and as is stated in our own Divine Liturgy and as we pray in the Artoklasia, for the President, for all civil authorities, for our Armed Forces everywhere, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life. And, our hope must be that in our prayers President Donald Trump (and all future Presidents) may come to a knowledge of the truth and lead us in such a way that we will cheerfully and joyfully re-elect them when their second term comes up.
And, so, I agree with Tom Hanks when he says, “I hope the president-elect does such a great job that I vote for his reelection in four years.” May that be our prayer and our hope.