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FIRST-PERSON: How shall we pray for the president?

MADISON, Ind. (BP)–Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., recently made the news by preaching a vitriolic message aimed at President Obama. According to a Fox News story, the sermon was bluntly titled, “Why I Hate Barack Obama.” In it the pastor revealed his deepest desire for President Obama: “I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell when I go to bed tonight. That’s what I’m gonna pray.”

Not content to leave it at that, he added the colorful detail that he hoped the president would “melt like a snail” with salt on it. Given a chance to speak with reporters and perhaps retract these hate-filled words, the pastor instead retrenched in his position, telling a local television station: “I hope that God strikes Barack Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy and I hope it happens today.” All Christians should be revolted at this pastor’s message and quickly repudiate the spirit it betrays. By way of a personal response, I believe several comments are in order.

First, pastor Anderson’s church is an independent Baptist church, affiliated with no denomination. The church website reveals that it is steeped in many of the things that are sadly typical of too many churches in the independent Baptist church movement, including various expressions of legalism and some dubious ministerial emphases. Still, when average Americans read about this pastor’s hateful sermon, they will not likely make fine distinctions between his type of Baptist Christianity and that which typifies Southern Baptist congregations. A large core of shared beliefs exists between Southern and independent Baptists, but we need to clarify that we have no affiliation with or sympathy for such views as were expressed about the president.

Second, many biblically oriented Christians from a variety of denominational backgrounds would readily agree that certain positions advocated by President Obama are reprehensible. Pastor Anderson is especially zealous for pro-life causes and seems to be reacting to the president’s well-known commitment to abortion rights. Believers can and should stand up for the rights of the unborn and strive to have a voice in the ongoing political debate surrounding this controversial issue. Yet any clear-thinking Christian can see that hating those who oppose our point of view does nothing to further the pro-life cause — in fact, quite the opposite is true. Besides, when we are opposed for righteousness’ sake, Jesus does not authorize us to hate in return. Pastor Anderson would do well to go back and study Luke 9:51-56. In that passage, two of Jesus’ disciples were zealous to call down fire from Heaven against those who set themselves against Christ. The Lord’s rebuke to them is appropriate in this case as well: “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”(Luke 9:55b-56).

Third, I shuddered when I read pastor Anderson’s prayer that President Obama would die and go to hell. According to the pastor’s church website, he prides himself on his commitment to soul-winning and on retaining a robust doctrine of hell. But of all people, soul-winners should live to see men delivered from judgment and not to condemn men to it. As one who believes I have escaped the wrath of God for my sins only because of the grace of God available by faith in Christ, I can take no delight in the thought of others who might perish. Beyond this, to think that we are in the position of pronouncing judgment over souls is to usurp authority that has not been delegated to us in this life. We are always called to warn people of the awful reality of hell, but with humility, tears, and aching hearts.

Many Southern Baptists are not likely to be counted as President Obama’s greatest political supporters, barring a change in his worldview, values and policies. But we dare not fail to extend to him the love and compassion of Christ. Pastor Anderson’s ill-intended prayers for the president’s destruction have prompted me to reevaluate my own faithfulness to carry out what is a clear biblical mandate: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”(1 Timothy 2:1-4).

In short, our prayers for the president must be directed for his ultimate spiritual good, not his condemnation. None of us are able to discern the heart condition of another person with accuracy. But when we do intercede for others, we are to pray compassionately for their spiritual advancement, not the consignment of souls to hell.
Paul Brewster is pastor of Ryker’s Ridge Baptist Church in Madison, Ind.

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  • Paul Brewster