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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Praying for Presidents
November 10, 2016

Our November prayer focus is for our civic leaders, particularly during the season of national elections. Prayer for political leaders is required of us by Scripture (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and is especially needful as newly elected officials begin service.

I am writing this before the presidential election, about which I personally care greatly. Others whom I love and respect care just as greatly about electing the candidate I oppose. Yet, more than with any presidential contest in memory, a sizeable portion of the electorate loathes both candidates equally. The Post-Gazette called this “the most divisive campaign in modern history,” and ended up listing pros and cons of both candidates rather than endorsing either. The noise at campaign rallies has been as deafening in cries of hostility to their opponent as in cheering for their candidate.

The election will not heal this divide. The president-elect faces the nigh-impossible task of uniting a nation whose unprecedented polarization materialized precisely around whether this candidate or the other should be president. At stake is a fundamental difference between what the two candidates represent – one seeks to make the current system of governance work better, while the other seeks to replace the current system with something new. Those who have staked their claim on continuity will resist forces of disruption at every turn, while those who seek to upend the current system will continue to seethe if it continues to prevail.

When a congregation is seeking a new leader, the presbytery insists that an interim leader be put in place if the congregation is conflicted. Until a congregation is united in its sense of identity and mission, nobody can lead it forward effectively. We train and place interim specialists to lead this difficult (and hopefully short-term) task. The nature of the work they must do is such that we do not permit them to be candidates for the called position once the church is ready to call a pastor. To use a rough analogy, turning the ship requires different instruments and skills than keeping the ship moving forward at full speed. A ship that the crew is trying to move in opposite directions will never move forward, no matter who is at the helm.

Perhaps our nation needs an interim president that takes the side of neither party, while honoring both. The work of healing the divides among us will be one of the most important tasks of the new president, and will require of him or her a very different public voice and presence than what has prevailed over the course of the election campaign.

As we pray for our new president, the first thing we must do is to set aside the rancor that we have fallen into over the course of the election campaign. We need to repent of all resentment, disdain, or hatred that we have nursed toward those on the opposing team. After the election dust settles, we are no longer two teams, but one – like it or not!

The church dare not let the polarities of our political landscape and public discourse lead us to divide the church. For the church to exhibit the schisms of the world within its own fellowship is to be conformed to the world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) For brothers and sisters in Christ to disparage and separate themselves from one another over the issues that have fractured the body politic is to concede that our message of God’s reconciling love and grace in Jesus Christ is little more than hot air.

The church’s first task in praying that our new president have wisdom to govern well and to heal the divisions of our nation, is for us to commit ourselves as Christians to being a reconciled and reconciling community, for Jesus’ sake, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot honestly pray for our president to unify our nation and move it forward if we refuse to live and work together as the community of those whom the Spirit has united to Christ, and thereby to one another. Only as we bury the hatchet among ourselves within the church can we pray with integrity for our new president to be enabled to reconcile our great nation and lead it forward well. Praying for our president diligently and faithfully requires more, much more, than mere words. Are we ready to be both a reconciled and a reconciling faith community? Wouldn’t it be an amazing gift to the larger church and the surrounding world if Presbyterians were to rise up to this challenge?

Praying for reconciliation,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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