NOTHSTINE: The pastor who condemned prayer for politics

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
The Rev. William J. Barber II addresses his supporters before discussing his plans to step down as president of the North Carolina NAACP during a press conference at the Davie Street Presbyterian Church on May 15.

Hate for President Donald Trump is now running so deep it is even infecting members of the clergy. The Rev. William Barber II, who has taken his familiar “prophetic” shtick national, is incensed at Evangelical leaders laying hands on and praying for the president in the Oval Office. Barber called the actions “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”

“When you can p-r-a-y for a president and others while they are p-r-e-y, preying on the most vulnerable, you’re violating the most sacred principles of religions, Barber told host Joy Reid of MSNBC on Saturday. He then loosely paraphrased Amos 2, which has harsh words for rulers who subjugate the poor. For him, that was enough to support overturning the plain teaching of Scripture and words of Christ and the Apostle Paul in favor of political partisanship.

While most Barber’s antics deserve less and less attention, this clear unbiblical blathering merits a response. One of the first mistakes Barber makes, and one he has been making his entire public career, is to confuse prudential and non-prudential arguments. While helping the poor is clearly a biblical command, Christians can respectfully agree to disagree about what is the best method to achieve those results in the public square. Even many proponents of more government and social safety nets would agree; a one-size-fits-all government program approach is not beneficial to everybody in need of help.

Of course, Barber takes umbrage to any tweaks to the floundering Affordable Care Act. He staged an arrest on Capitol Hill outside of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office, acting under the authority of president of Repairers of the Breach —the “breach” supposedly represents anything that threatens more government programs. Rather amusingly, another minister adjacent to Barber spouted off against the worship of capitalism, seemingly ignorant that the replacement bill offered by GOP leadership is a far cry from being a pro free-market piece of legislation.

But Barber’s oddest denouncement was the chiding of praying for a leader placed over the civil authority, at least for anybody who has a passing familiarity with Scripture and the teachings of Christ. If Barber is convinced that Trump is indeed the enemy, he should heed the command of Christ in Matthew who says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Furthermore, the Apostle Paul clearly teaches in his first letter to Timothy to pray for those in governmental leadership. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,” writes Paul.

In many churches and denominations, the Christian liturgy prompts parishioners to pray for the nation’s president despite the political partisan leanings or personal moral failings of whoever is placed over us. These prayers, for good reason, remain uninterrupted and unchanged regardless of who holds power over the nation.

The prophet Daniel reminds us: “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” In comparison, Barber’s small view of God’s sovereignty and purposes inevitably turns him into an ever increasingly petty guardian of government largess. The disciple Judas too suffered from this narrow and shortsighted view of God’s plan. In the Gospel of John, Judas lectured Mary Magdalene for washing the feet of Christ with expensive perfume, admonishing her to give the money to the poor. Christ in return admonishes Judas for his own selfish greed and not understanding the true purpose of the perfume, which was to anoint him for his sacrificial death and burial.

Remarkably, but perhaps not surprisingly, Barber’s agenda has blinded him to the plain meaning of Scripture. While Barber’s antics reinforce that he has outgrown North Carolina, his “prophetic” voice on the national scene is already diminishing.

Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.