The apostle Paul says: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. Recently, I came upon a Facebook post chastising someone for criticizing Donald Trump, and used the quotation above from 2 Timothy to suggest that we should pray rather than criticize our leaders. I suggest that we have a twin vocation: to pray for our leaders, and to hold them to account. That will sometimes mean criticizing them, both in our prayer and in other forms of communication.
How might we criticize our leaders in our prayers? In the fashion of the psalmists, when they lament to God the corrupt or self-serving nature of the leaders of the day. At that moment, prayer becomes a safe place for saying the things we feel deeply but dare not express publicly.
But it is more than that. In those cries – which are sometimes so strong that they offend us deeply in a more touchy age – we call for justice and for change, not just for revenge. We ask God to help our persecutors to understand and feel what it is like to be helpless, at the mercy of powers stronger than us. We call for change.
We ask God to bring about change, but we also understand in political prayers that we too may need to be part of bringing the change into being. So in prayer we
1. Interpret current events in the light of the great story of God
2. Critique political actions through the Spirit’s prompting, in the gift of prophecy
3. Act out our displeasure
There has been much debate about whether it was right to float a cartoon blimp of the ‘baby Donald Trump’ over London. Apart from the fact that cartoons and lampoons are a long-established part of the humour and political commentary of this nation, we know that the prophets of our tradition were not infrequently called to act out their prophetic words in a kind of zany divine drama. I’m not wanting to suggest that those who floated the blimp are thereby acting as the voice of God, but their humour might just serve as a prophetic warning.
Maybe most importantly, we must not use criticism to aggrandize ourselves at the expense of others. Politics is too important for that, and our words of criticism, our humour and our outbursts need to serve the common good. But I am grateful that in this nation, we have the freedom to express ourselves in that potentially prophetic way, and of course to receive the criticism that will come our way. We too, like Donald Trump, are fallible, flawed human beings.