Ed Stetzer on the Trump Visit to McLean Bible Church

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I agree with just about everything Ed Stetzer has written about this incident.  I said something similar, but not as eloquently, here.

For those Christians who have been criticizing David Platt from the left, I would ask several questions:

  1. What would you do in this situation?
  2. Even if you believe Trump is evil, how would you balance that with his human dignity?  Yes, he was there for a political opportunity, and it was disgusting, but I don’t know many members of the clergy who would turn someone away who was asking for prayer.
  3. Christians are called to pray for their leaders.  Several folks have noted that prayers for government leaders are embedded in the Book of Common Prayer.  So what happens when the president actually shows up and asks for prayer?  Does the call to pray for leaders cease to apply when the leader is actually in your presence?
  4. As most readers know, I am no fan of the president.  If Platt allowed Trump to speak I would have a serious problem with it.  If Platt used the prayer to demonize Trump’s enemies or extol Trump as King Cyrus, I would be the first one to scream.  But this is not what happened.
  5. Some people are complaining about the optics.  Of course the optics could go both ways.  And if you are a historian and you don’t like the image of Platt with his hand on Trump’s solider, then interpret the image for your readers.  Provide context.  Source the document (who is Platt?). This is what we do.

Stetzer gets it right.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

I was frustrated at the arm-chair quarterbacking I saw online, with some saying that he should prophetically have rebuked the president, others saying he should have denied the request, and still others wishing that he’d been more affirming of the president.

I tweeted:

I know that every person tweeting criticism of @PlattDavid would have handled it so much better if @POTUSshowed up to your place with little notice, but maybe just consider that he is not as smart, godly, or prophetic as you are and try to extend grace to your lesser brother.

Simply put, David Platt made a fast decision when the president came by. To condemn him for that is simply not appropriate. He basically had two choices—either honor the request or not.

Platt could have chosen to decline the visit. This would have inevitably led to attacks from Trump supporters, a public outcry over a pastor refusing to pray for the president, and questioning of his personal position on the president.

Instead, he chose the second option and, in his eyes, sought to model what he saw in Scripture about praying for those in authority.

Yes, he could have prayed behind the scenes. Yes, he could have refused to have the president on stage. To some, he should have thought of all of those options in the few minutes he had while the president of the United States was asking for something else.

But let’s give David Platt the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. He did what he thought was right in that moment.

There are no parameters when it comes to who we will pray for, and we are specifically commanded to pray for our leaders. Jesus commanded us all to pray for even our enemies. We can debate if that prayer should have been on the stage, but perhaps we can agree that we pray when asked to pray.

Read the entire piece here.

Jerry Falwell Jr., President of a Christian University, Tells David Platt to “Grow a Pair”

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The president of the second largest Christian university in the world is at it again.

Falwell Jr. has blocked me on Twitter, so I cannot embed his recent tweet.  But this is what he wrote:

“Sorry to be crude but pastors like @plattdavid need to grow a pair.  Just saying.”

Falwell was responding to this tweet from Fox News radio host Todd Starnes:

Apparently Falwell was not happy with pastor David Platt’s letter to his congregation that explained how he handled the Trump’s visit to McLean Bible Church on Sunday.  Falwell’s tweet suggests that Platt’s decision to explain himself to his congregation made him appear weak and not manly enough.

Several comments:

  1. First, a word about his language.  Falwell begins by “apologizing” for his crudeness.  It is worth noting that he is the president of a university.  Most university presidents are able to communicate their ideas without being crude.  In other words, they have civil language at their disposal.  But Falwell knows that his base–conservative evangelical Christians–love this kind of language.  In some ways, Falwell’s use of language says less about him and more about the kind of evangelicals that gravitate toward him.  I would not be surprised if there was a small spike in donations to Liberty University today.
  2. This tweet reveals that Falwell views the world primarily through politics, not Christian reconciliation or unity.   Remember, Platt wrote this letter as a way of dealing with conflict in his congregation–McLean Bible Church.  It was a pastoral epistle.  Platt was trying to heal wounds and keep his church body together after a difficult day.  He knew there was some division in his church after Trump’ showed- up unannounced and he wanted to explain why he handled the president’s visit in the way he did.  For Falwell to criticize Platt for trying to maintain unity in his congregation suggests that the divisive rhetoric of Trumpian politics (or any politics for that matter) is more important than unity in the body of Christ.  But this is nothing new.
  3. It is also worth noting how Falwell responded to one of his critics on Twitter.  Winfield Bevins, a professor a Asbury Theological Seminary, called Falwell out in a tweet: “What an unbelievable statement from someone who calls themselves a minister of the gospel.  @LibertyU should call on you to repent.”  Falwell responded on twitter with this: “You’re putting your ignorance on display.  I have never been a minister.  UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 years.  Univ president for last 12-years–student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6 new construction in those 12 years.”  Trump couldn’t have said it any better.

Sad.

David Platt of McLean Bible Church Responds to Trump’s Visit

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I have now done several posts on Trump’s decision to go to McLean Bible Church yesterday.  Now it is time for some additional thoughts on McLean’s pastor David Platt.

Donald Trump showed-up at McLean Bible Church and Platt prayed for him.  Some may have thought Platt should have closed the door to Trump.  Others thought he did not chastise him enough or speak truth to power.

I don’t think I would have handled this any differently.  Platt did a great job.

Christians value hospitality.  We like to talk about how the church doors are always open.  Yes, Trump was probably there to score political points with his evangelical base. But when someone decides to show-up at church, the minister and the congregation should not be concerned about motives.  Instead, they should seize the opportunity to change the narrative.  This, it seems, is what Platt did.

If Platt rejected Trump’s request for a visit he would not have been acting in a Christian way. If he fawned over the president or got political he would not have been acting in a Christian way.

Platt is no court evangelical.  He invited Trump into the service and prayed for him in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:1-6.  He did not flatter Trump.  He did not pray that God would protect Trump from his enemies.  He departed from the Franklin Graham instruction manual in almost every way.  Platt prayed that Trump would be an agent of justice.  He prayed that God would give Trump wisdom and reminded him that wisdom stems from the fear of God.  From Platt’s mouth to God’s ears.

This morning Samford religion professor David Bains made some good points about the optics.  Trump was tired and quiet.  Platt dictated the terms of the visit.  This was not a court evangelical begging for attention and photo-ops in the oval office.  Watch the video.  Platt walked out on stage with the authority of a minister.  Trump followed.

If his letter to the congregation is any indication, Platt did not want to have to deal with this.  On the other hand, he has no need to apologize for what he did.  This is why I think this Politico headline is misleading.

Emma Green gets it right at The Atlantic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

It is not weird for a Southern Baptist pastor to pray for the president of the United States. Yes, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and have remained firmly supportive  of the president during his first two years in office. Yes, he has surrounded himself with a coterie of evangelical adviserswho have cemented the association between conservative Christianity and Trumpism. But even among the evangelical pastors who spoke out against Trump in the run-up to Election Day 2016—and they did exist—praying for the president is a given. As Russell Moore, a major Southern Baptist leader and a vocal Trump critic, wrote shortly before Trump’s inauguration, it is “our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority.”

So when Trump visited McLean Bible Church, a D.C.-area mega-church, over the weekend to show his support to the victims of the Virginia Beach mass shooting, which took place the night before roughly four hours away, it was to be expected that the pastor there, David Platt, would pray for the president. Trump showed up in the middle of the afternoon, after a round of golf, and made no remarks. The two men stood onstage together, eyes shut, Platt holding his Bible. “We stand right now on behalf of our president, and we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him,” Platt said. “We pray that he would look to you. That he would trust in you, that he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.”

What’s remarkable about this prayer is not that it happened, but that it shows how thoroughly the Trump era has opened the way for cynicism and outrage over even mundane, predictable Christian behavior. Within the world of evangelicalism, Platt does not roll with the hard-core Trump supporters; his prayer was studiously neutral, clear of boosterism and partisanship. While Trump has certainly amplified divisions among evangelicals over race, gender, and the rightful relationship between Christianity and politics, the choice to pray for a person in leadership is not a meaningful symbol of evangelicalism’s transformation under the 45th president.

Read the rest here.

Why Did Trump Go to McLean Bible Church?

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As some of you know, yesterday Donald Trump made a short visit (some outlets are reporting 16-minutes) to McLean Bible Church, an evangelical megachurch in Vienna, Virginia.  David Platt, the pastor of the church, prayed for Trump.

Why did he go?

A White House spokesperson named Judd Deere said that Trump visited the church “to visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.”

Really?

I don’t know if McLean Bible Church pastor David Platt “visited” with Trump before he took the stage and prayed for the president.  As I understand it, Trump showed-up in the middle of the service.  The president did not make any public statement.  Platt’s prayer said nothing about Virginia Beach.

Trump actually came to McLean Bible Church to throw a bone to his evangelical base.  This was the day that Franklin Graham set aside to pray for the president.  I wrote about this here and here and contributed to this CNN report.

His visit had nothing to do with Virginia Beach.  I have no idea why Deere said that it was about the Virginia Beach shooting.  If he was honest, and simply said that Trump was there to honor Franklin Graham’s call for prayer, he probably would have scored more political points with the visit.  Or maybe Deere had no clue as to why Trump showed-up at McLean Bible Church.  He was covering the weekend the shift in the press shop, hear about the spontaneous visit, and simply offered the Virginia Beach explanation off the top of his head because it made sense.

One of the best things I have read on this comes from David Bains, a religion professor at Samford University.   He writes:

Yesterday afternoon was surely one of the odder moments in the history of presidential churchgoing. Returning from midday golf game at the Trump National Golf Club in Loudoun County, Virginia, the President stopped at McLean Bible Church at 2:20 pm to appear in a regularly scheduled Sunday service that started at 1:00 pm. The church is about 11 miles from the golf course. He was at the church for fifteen minutes, and in the service for only a portion of that.

The White House said that the purpose of the visit was to visit with the church’s pastor, David Platt, and pray for victims of Friday’s deadly mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Yet, while Trump was in the church there were no public prayers for the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting. Rather, Platt seemed to understand that the visit was linked to the special national day of prayer for the president that Franklin Graham and others had declared. Given that the president was being criticized in the morning for not attending church on his day, it is reasonable to conclude as historian John Fea has that that was a key reason behind the president’s church visit.

While Platt is generally being praised for offering a prayer for the president and other leaders that was not an endorsement of Trump, the White House defined the meaning of the the event in the media. Most reports have stated that the purpose of the visit was to pray for the victims of Friday’s shooting, and the 170-some miles between the church and the location of the shooting is lost on those unfamiliar with Virginia.

Platt did not endorse Graham’s designation of June 2 as a “SPECIAL Day of Prayer for the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, that God would protect, strengthen, embolden, and direct him.” The extemporaneous prayer Platt offered while standing next to the President did not focus on the Graham’s key themes of protection and emboldening, nor did it speak of the president as being attacked. But the optic of the prayer, with the president looking weary and slightly disheveled while a young pastor prays with a hand on the president’s back and proving useful to those who wanted to see the president being prayed for in a church on this day.

Read the rest here.

In a later tweet, Bains stressed the fact that McLean Bible Church had a 1:00pm service:

Yup.

Perhaps it went down this way: Trump was on the golf course all morning and probably saw people on Twitter criticizing him for golfing while so many of his evangelical supporters were in church praying for him.  He and his staff did not like the optics, but it was too late in the day to find an evangelical service to attend.  Most evangelical congregations do not have afternoon services.

But wait!

McLean Bible Church in Vienna actually does have an afternoon service.  It starts at 1:00pm.  Jackpot!

If Trump and his crew hurried, they could get to Vienna before the service ended.  Trump showed up at 2:25pm. (Most evangelical services last anywhere between 60 and 75 minutes. Did McLean extend the service?)  But there was no time to comb his hair or take off his golf shoes.  The fact that the McLean pastor David Platt is not a court evangelical and did not sign Franklin Graham’s call for prayer was irrelevant by this point.

Finally, it is worth noting that some media outlets and popular tweeters simply took the White House at its word about the purpose of the visit and seemed to have no clue that this was all about Graham’s call for prayer and not about Virginia Beach.

ADDENDUM (June 3, 2019 at 9:12 PM):  According to commentator Kenny Brown (see his comment below), Mike Pence occasionally attends McLean Bible Church. Perhaps this also has something to do with how Trump ended up there.