As I discussed in my previous post, President Donald Trump stopped in at McLean Bible Church yesterday to receive prayer. The church’s pastor, David Platt, has posted a letter to his congregation about the event. Platt’s letter makes clear that the purpose of the president’s visit was to be prayed for, not to pray for the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting as was widely reported. (See John Fea’s recent post on this point.)
It also makes clear that Platt had only a few minutes notice that the president was coming to the service. This is not that unusual. After the vice president and president attended Christmas Eve services at Washington National Cathedral last year, Bishop Marian Budde shared that she had only about a half hour’s notice before the vice president showed up at the first service. Edward Pruden, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., in the 1940s and 50s, often told the story about how he learned that President Harry Truman was coming to an early service when the president’s motorcade was already a few blocks from the church.
On that occasion, the pastor put the president on the spot. Truman had intended just to be a member of the congregation. Instead Pruden asked him to say a few words to the Sunday school class that was celebrating their graduation that day. The president obliged. Pruden thought the Truman’s words were wonderful and often repeated this story as a way of complimenting the president.
Yesterday, it was the president who put the pastor on the spot. Platt explained
At the end of my sermon at the 1:00 worship gathering, I stepped to the side for what I thought would be a couple of moments in quiet reflection as we prepared to take the Lord’s Supper. But I was immediately called backstage and told that the President of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like for us to pray for him. I immediately thought about my longing to guard the integrity of the gospel in our church. As I said in the sermon today, Christ alone unites us. I love that we have over 100 nations represented in our church family, including all kinds of people with varied personal histories and political opinions from varied socioeconomic situations. It’s clear in our church that the only reason we’re together is because we have the same King we adore, worship, fear, and follow with supreme love and absolute loyalty, and His name is Jesus.
Platt explained that he went back on stage to lead the Lord’s supper and then walked back off to meet the president. In his letter to the congregation he said
While I won’t go into the details of our conversation backstage, one of our other pastors and I spoke the gospel in a way that I pray was clear, forthright, and compassionate. Then I walked back out on stage, read 1 Timothy 2:1-6, and sought to pray the Word of God over the president, other leaders, and our country. (If you would like to see the full context of my comments and prayer, I have included the video below.) After I prayed, the president walked off stage without comment, and we closed our gathering by celebrating heroes among us, a couple who has spent the last 48 years spreading the gospel in remote places where it had never gone before they came. We then recited the Great Commission as we always do, sending one another out into the city for the glory of our King.
Platt related that he needed to make a quick decision and did the best he could. He also stated but knows that the decision has proved controversial among his congregation. You can read his full statement in church Facebook post here.
The president had clearly put Platt in a hard place. While Trump’s staff may have thought that Platt was one of those evangelicals participating in Franklin Graham’s call for a “special day of prayer” for the president, he was not. If Platt had agreed to pray for the president only privately, the president’s supporters could have made that just as controversial.
While presidents often have shown up to churches on short notice, I can’t recall a time they have done so when the pastor learns of their visit toward the end of the service and has little choice but to bring them on stage. That sort of action by the president’s staff seems either crafty or clueless.