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Donald Trump: Episcopalian Church, when praying for the President becomes a problem

Can one pray for a leader one strongly disagrees with? If the answer is yes, does praying imply blessing, commending or accepting that person’s behaviour or politics? The Episcopalian Church has been confronted with this question for the past two months, namely since Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States. It happens for the first time in the history of the United States, and it’s the sign –said political analyst Paolo Naso – of an America that is “split in half.”

The debate rapidly spread on social media. It began immediately after Donald Trump’s election past November, but it continues at an equally heated pace. The issue involves the Episcopalian Church, the US branch of the Anglican Communion. The crucial question that has been hammering many Episcopalians for over two months concerns the meaning, or rather, the legitimacy, of praying for the 45th President of the United States during public worship.

It all began when, past November, the bishop of the diocese of Chicago Jeffrey Lee asked the faithful to pray for the President-elect. The diocese reacted to the request, although the bishop’s appeal to pray didn’t necessarily imply political support to the new administration.

What happened in Chicago two months ago was not an isolated case. In fact, the issue involves the “Book of Common Prayer” in the passage recited during the Eucharistic celebration that calls to pray “for our President, for the leaders of the nations and for all in authority.” In some cases, the name of the President can be explicitly mentioned in the prayers. Some Episcopalians – states an article published by the Episcopal News Service – make the distinction between praying for the office of the president, not the individual. Some say that they cannot accept hearing Trump’s name in the liturgy, “because hearing his name triggers trauma for some congregants considering his past sexual, misogynist and racial comments, and general behaviour during the campaign and since. Still others say that one cannot separate praying for the office and the officeholder.”

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Hence the yet unanswered question faced by the Episcopalian Church is: “Does praying for the president imply blessing, commending or accepting that person’s behaviour or politics?”

Some were upset over the involvement of the “Washington National Cathedral” and its choir in Trump’s inauguration, to the extent that presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Cathedral Dean Randolph Hollerith all issued statements addressing the concerns of the faithful. Bishop Michael Curry  voiced the remarks, “When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?” “The practice of prayer for leaders is deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions”, the Bishop said. However, this means Episcopalians are praying that “their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good.”

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Political analyst Paolo Naso, with a scholarly knowledge of the United States, invited to contextualize the debate inside a Country like the United States, marked by a sort of “civil religion” that accompanied its very foundation – whose Presidents take their oath with a hand on a Bible, and whose customary expressions are “God bless America”, “God bless You”. Until now this approach was adopted by completely different political figures – from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan – . “With Donald Trump things grow complicated” to the point of becoming “an issue of personal conscience, namely, how can we pray for the President, accept his public rhetoric, when the President is the promoter of such a starkly divisive and controversial agenda involving fundamental values?”

Today America is like an “apple that has been split in half”,

faced with highly-charged disagreements, “at a time which should be that of a honeymoon, according to the physiology of US politics.” Naso explained: “Regardless of individual votes, in the six months following the President’s election, the bitter tones of the election campaign were traditionally set aside, and everyone teamed up for the good of the Country. With Donald Trump that physiology is breaking apart.”

The recent history of this Country experienced countless episodes of discord between the Churches and the US administration, like when George Bush sr. declared war against Iraq, prompting the harsh, open criticism of the President of the United Methodist Church. Also the National Council of Churches has criticised the politics of the US Administration on several occasions. However, those criticisms, Naso pointed out, “were directed against specific areas of political action. In this case the problem is connected with the personality and the declared political line of the President. In this respect I think that the religious dynamics of the United States will need to be closely followed, along with its political dimension.”

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