Prayers and the Presidency

by | Jan 12, 2017

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:1-7

On the day after the national election, we held prayer services at Washington National Cathedral. We had planned the liturgy knowing that whatever the election’s outcome, half of the country would feel exiled in their own land. I preached from the prophet Jeremiah, who knew well the spiritual terrain of exile. I invited those gathered to pray the Prayer of St Francis. And I said that if asked, Washington National Cathedral would host an interfaith inaugural prayer service in January.

As that day approaches, many in our church and in our land question Dean Hollerith’s and my willingness to host an inaugural prayer service for one whose behavior and words have been so offensive and divisive. We also have been asked why we accepted the invitation for the Cathedral choristers to sing at as part as the musical prelude to the inauguration when so many other artists and performers, on principle, declined that invitation.

First, I want to acknowledge the anger and disappointment that our decisions have engendered. And to say that I’m listening, because the spiritual principles that move many of you to protest are essential for the work that lies ahead. While I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles. Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.

The first spiritual principle, which always characterizes the Episcopal Church at its most faithful, is that we welcome all people into our houses of prayer. We welcome all because we follow a Lord and Savior who welcomes all, without qualification. Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize. We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in the need of prayer.  

The second spiritual principle that informs my decision is that in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all. I am alarmed by some of Mr. Trump’s words and deeds and by those who now feel emboldened to speak and act in hateful ways. Nonetheless, I believe in the power of God to work for good, and the capacity of our nation to rise to our highest ideals. As President Obama said in his last speech, our nation’s future will be determined by our resolve to “restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.” I ask the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to join me in dedication to that purpose, in faithfulness to Christ and as ones who cherish the gift of democracy.

Finally, Dean Hollerith and I decided to host an interfaith prayer service and to accept the invitation for the Cathedral choristers to sing before the inauguration itself as a gift. At a time when emotions are raw, we hope to offer a few moments of spiritual solace and the healing gift of transcendent beauty. We also want the nation to know that we are still here, as people of hope. While the inauguration is a civic rather than a religious ceremony, it is also an occasion for prayer and an opportunity to offer the balm of beauty. Please be assured that participation in the inauguration is entirely voluntary for individual members, and that the choir has worked diligently and sensitively to prepare its younger choristers and their parents for this event.

Even as we pray and work for common purpose, know that I understand how much is at stake in this moment and the importance of our collective witness. We are called to pray and sometimes to protest. We are called to seek reconciliation, but never at the expense of justice.