Last week, I signed a Bible along with all the other Bishops of the United Methodist Church that will be presented to President-elect Barak Obama as he prepares to assume office. This is a practice that is repeated by the Council of Bishops with each new President. A few of my older colleagues have signed Bibles for Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, Sr., Reagan, Carter and so forth back for more than forty years. A letter of congratulations goes along with the Bible as well as a promise of our continuing prayers.
Historically, the Bishops of the United Methodist Church have enjoyed a mutually respectful relationship with the Office of the Presidency. Our first Bishop, Francis Asbury, visited with President George Washington personally shortly after Washington’s election. While the archives are sketchy about the content of their meeting, there is no doubt in my mind that Bishop Asbury offered prayer for the new President. In like fashion, the Council of Bishops last week offered prayers for both the out-going and in-coming Presidents, as well as for the nation they lead and for the world they so significantly impact.
Many United Methodists rejoice with the election of Mr. Obama while many other United Methodists voted for other equally dedicated leaders. But now there is only one President-elect, and whether we celebrate this new direction, or look upon it with skepticism, our leaders deserve our prayers. That is not just a Bishop’s idea; it’s a mandate embedded deeply in our faith tradition and in our scriptures.
While scripture reminds us not to put our ultimate trust in the princes and rulers of this world, it also encourages us to pray for those in authority over us. The United States and our partner nations face challenges of extraordinary complexity, depth, and intensity – the economic crisis, wars, environmental challenges, poverty, epidemics, immigration. These are larger than any one person, larger than any one political party, and larger than any one nation to figure out. Yet, this nation also has extraordinary resources: a deeply embedded valuing of justice, freedom, personal expression, sacrifice, innovation, and hard work, even when we sometimes live these out imperfectly.
How do we faithfully fulfill our role as people of faith in anticipation of the beginnings of a new presidential administration? Perhaps we do well to take our lead from scripture. I hope you will read, study, and pray with me the prayer recorded in Psalm 72 as the people of Israel celebrate the anointing of a new ruler:
“Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God,
the gift of just rule to the crown prince.
May he judge your people rightly,
be honorable to your meek and lowly.
Let the mountains give exuberant witness;
shape the hills with contours of right living.
Please stand up for the poor,
help the children of the needy,
come down hard on tyrants.
Outlast the sun, outlive the moon—
age after age after age,
be rainfall on cut grass,
earth-refreshing rain showers.
Let righteousness burst into blossom,
and peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.”
The Message, Psalm 72: 1-7
Or as the New Revised Standard records it:
“Long my he live!….
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long….”
Psalm 72: 15
Pray for our President, and for our President-elect. Pray for their families. Pray for the United States of America. Pray for our world and for its people. Pray for wisdom, for justice, for peace, for prosperity, for those who suffer. Pray alone, and pray in worship, and pray with your loved ones. Pray.
Yours in Christ,