WASHINGTON (BP) — Prayer for a smooth presidential transition and thankfulness for the American tradition of peaceful leadership transfer are among Southern Baptists’ prescriptions for the 73 days between Election Day and Donald Trump’s inauguration as America’s 45th president.
“Through history, transitioning political power has usually been bloody [and] involved great social upheaval, destruction of property and personal uncertainty,” said Daniel Heimbach, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who served in the George H.W. Bush administration. “And those who lose power have usually been killed, banished or at least ostracized.
“The exceptional achievement and enormous blessing of transitioning power in the American governing system has been to do so without bloodshed, recrimination, banishment, destruction of property or social division,” said Heimbach, who began his service to Bush as deputy executive secretary of the Domestic Policy Council and ended as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy.
Other Southern Baptists, including Maryland pastor Ken Fentress and Boyce College dean Matthew Hall, cited history and Scripture to underscore the unique blessing of America’s history of peaceful transitions.
Around the nation, reaction to Trump’s election has been mixed. Protests have occurred in several major cities, with an outburst of vandalism in Portland, Ore.
Meanwhile, President-elect Trump and President Obama — who have criticized one another harshly at times — met for 90 minutes at the White House Nov. 10. Following the meeting, Obama told Trump, “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed.” Trump said “it was a great honor being with” Obama.
Trump’s general election opponent Hillary Clinton said in a Nov. 10 concession speech she had “congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.”
Heimbach, who was involved in two executive branch transitions, said between now and January 20, Trump appointees to political positions “will start sitting in with their counterparts,” being briefed and assisted by outgoing officials.
While “top positions” will turn over to Trump appointees on Inauguration Day, Heimbach told Baptist Press, lower-level Obama political appointees “will not leave their jobs until new Trump appointees arrive to take their place … So for the first months of 2017, lower-level political jobs will be filled by a mixture of Obama and Trump appointees.”
A smooth transition can be thwarted by a lack of cooperation among people in either administration, Heimbach said in written comments, noting, “Prayer for national leaders is as essential during this time of transition as it is leading up to a presidential election.”
Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern, added, “The time between being elected president … and taking office … is a time of great national vulnerability, administrative fluidity and one of the greatest leadership challenges a president ever faces because he must in just [over] one month fill all positions most essential to running the most powerful nation on earth.”
Fentress, an Old Testament scholar and pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md., told BP examples of leadership transition in Scripture should caution and instruct the president and president-elect.
The smooth transition between Moses and Joshua is “a priceless example for any leader in any period of history,” Fentress said, in part because Joshua was faithful to God’s Word, courageous and fearless. The transition from Samuel’s leadership to Saul’s, on the other hand, should give pause to those zealous for change at all costs.
Saul’s rise to the throne, stemming from Israel’s demand for a king like the surrounding pagan nations, Fentress said, demonstrates “that sometimes the change that the people want is not what is most pleasing to God or what is best.”
The history of violent leadership transitions in the Old Testament stands in contrast to God’s blessing of peace in American transitions, Fentress said, noting the violent rises to power of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
“Even though there are people protesting the results of the election in the streets,” Fentress said of Trump’s election, “as Christians we should be thankful because” peaceful transition “is a priceless thing that God has graciously given to us, especially after such a rancorous political campaign season. The fact that things are as peaceful as they are … is really owing to God’s grace to us.”
Fentress, an African American, said it is acceptable for Americans of color to be “concerned” due to past comments by Trump that appear to be racially insensitive. But believers should never be “afraid,” and they should pray for their leaders.
“My prayer always for whoever occupied the Oval Office,” Fentress said, “is that God will cause them to do what He wants them to do even if they’re not trying.”
Hall, a historian and dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate school, cited “resilience” following divisive elections as “the extraordinary thing about the American democratic experiment.”
“As we witness the peaceful transfer of power in our own nation, we should never take it for granted and should instead give thanks for one more manifestation of God’s common grace,” Hall told BP in written comments.
Among presidential elections to leave “parts of the American electorate frustrated and angry” were Thomas Jefferson’s victory in 1800 and Abraham Lincoln’s in 1860, said Hall, who teaches church history, American history and American government courses.
“In spite of great trauma and a nation at times deeply divided, our common life has grown stronger, not weaker,” Hall said. “At the end of the day, Americans have rejected the coups and juntas that have plagued other democratic regimes in much of the world.
“Our constitutional protections are well tested, proving that if the electorate is disappointed, it will always have a chance in the not-too-distant future to make its voice heard and to effect real change,” Hall said.
Following Trump’s election, Hall said, Southern Baptists “have a real opportunity in American public life to be among those who demonstrate, in their words and deeds, that our trust is not in chariots or horses, but in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).”