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Full disclosure: I am a non-sectarian humanist who does not engage in personal prayer. Still, as a hospital chaplain for almost 25 years, I prayed daily with patients, aware and appreciative of their particular Christian orientation and the important role of prayer in affirming, sustaining and comforting them and their loved ones. And recently, in a telephone conversation with a dying longtime ministerial friend and colleague, he asked me to offer a prayer for him, which I gladly did.
When President Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump, became infected with the coronavirus, countless faith leaders across the country offered up prayers for their recovery. Known leaders especially were quoted. Tony Suarez, Trump administration faith advisor and National Hispanic Leadership Conference vice president, immediately emailed the following prayer to Trump: “I know a name greater that COVID, corona, or SARS. It’s the name of Jesus and I pray healing in that wonderful name over you and the First Lady . . . rest and get well sir. See you back on the campaign trail soon.” (“Faith leaders offer prayers as President Trump tests positive for COVID-19,” By Bob Smietana, Jack Jenkins and Adelle M. Banks, Religious News Service, The Salt Lake Tribune, October 2, 2020)
Prominent Baptist Bible teacher, Beth Moore began praying as soon as she heard the president was infected, and “cautioned Christians of all political persuasions to show compassion.” She is also quoted: “This is Christian. God, help us in these difficult days.” (Ibid)
Longtime faith advisor to the president, Johnny Moore tweeted the following prayer: “Dear God, please touch (President Trump) and (First Lady Melania) with your healing grace, guiding the hands of all medical professionals treating them . . . Give them a speedy recovery. I thank you that you made them so strong. God do the same for every person in the world facing the same. Amen.” Strong Trump supporter and prominent evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham was also reported to “tweet out prayers for the first family, asking followers to join him in ‘praying especially for them, that they would have a quick recovery.’“ (Ibid)
The executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, Rev. Laura Everett, offered her prayer on social media: “I pray for Mr. and Mrs. Trump, pray they do not suffer from #COVID19. Pray as I always do for their hearts to soften, and entrust them into God’s care.” Also, “in a related mini-sermon, [she] remind[ed] followers who disapprove of Trump not to gloat.” (Ibid)
Co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. William Barber’s prayer was wrapped in a moral imperative: “I’m praying for the recovery of the president and his wife from COVID and for all those also who may have been affected.” He added: ”And I‘m praying he and his enablers recover from the arrogance and lies with which they have ignored the warnings of public health officials and the cries of those who are suffering.” (Ibid)
Rev. Barber’s prayer was echoed by “The Resistance Prays, a progressive faith group that has been deeply critical of Trump.” In a statement, the group “urged its followers to pray for the president and the first lady, asking that their bodies and hearts would be healed and that this would ‘move them toward compassion and justice.’“ The statement also declared: “While we continue to resist evil and the government’s abysmal handling of the Coronavirus that has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 deaths, we must also recall Jesus’ teachings to love our enemies.” (Ibid)
Politicians and media pundits joined people of faith in offering prayers for the president and his wife’s renewed health. Among them: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Biden said: “Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.” Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and her husband Doug joined the Bidens “in wishing President Trump and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery.” (Ibid)
Numerous Democratic leaders immediately offered prayers for President Trump and his wife’s speedy recovery. In his article, “Why Are Democrats Praying for a Speedy Recovery of a ‘Fascist Dictator?’“ Glenn Greenwald writes, “Indeed, that all decent people should hope and pray for Trump’s speedy recovery was the virtually unanimous consensus of leading Democratic Party figures, expressed by Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.” Sanders said, “Jane and I wish the President and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery.” (The Intercept October 4, 2020)
Why pray for the renewed health of a tyrant who will merely continue to mislead and harm people? Early on President Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly stuff,” but kept that knowledge from the American people as the virus continued to spread unabated and the death toll soared. As the deadly virus continued unchecked, Trump reassured everyone that it was under control and would “disappear” like a “miracle.” He even said that children were “virtually” immune from it, knowing that was not true. He not only refused to wear a mask, but politicized his refusal, aware, as he told journalist Bob Woodward in an interview, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it is passed.” (“Trump Admits Downplaying the Virus Knowing It Was ‘Deadly Stuff,’“ By Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Sept 9, 2020) His motivation was not the well-being of Americans, but getting people back to work and children back to school for the sake of the economy and his re-election.
But the president could not keep dodging reality. The coronavirus caught up with him, and he ended up in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He received the best medical care: surrounded by a team of doctors, who provided him with the most advanced medicines. One such medicine is a steroid, dexamethasone, which makes one feel euphoric and invincible. After taking that steroid, Trump was up to his old tricks of playing down the virus – in an irrational, shocking way. In a recorded video message, he said to all Americans, including the loved ones of the then over 209,000 family members and friends killed by the virus: “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it . . . We’re going back to work. We’re going to be out front. . . . Don’t let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful.” (“ ‘Don’t be afraid’ of COVID’’, Trump says as he returns to White House that is stalked by illness,” By Steve Holland and Alexander Alper, REUTERS, Oct. 5, 2020)
President Trump is in denial of being responsible for the spreading pandemic, with its devastating effects, and in denial of being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. Even after contracting the coronavirus himself, he continued to play it down. He “claimed . . . that catching the coronavirus was ‘a blessing from God,’” and “portrayed as a miracle cure the unproven miracle drug he was given .” (“Trump Calls His Illness ‘a Blessing from God,’ “ By Maggie Haberman and Katie Thomas, The New York Times, Oct. 7, 2020)
It is wishful, possibly delusional thinking, perhaps even unwitting accommodation, to assume that prayers will change him. He lives in an alternative reality with his own “God,” who is not showing him the error of his ways, but “blessing” him with a “miraculous cure.” “God” is at his side as he hastens hell-bent on re-election.
After returning from the Walter Reed Medical Center, President Trump stood on the White House balcony and told his audience below that he was “feeling great.” And he again “declared that the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, was ‘disappearing’ even though he is still recovering from the virus.” (“President Trump’s doctor says he isn’t at isk of transmitting coronavirus,” By Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Oct., 12, 2020)
The coronavirus is far from “disappearing.” According to the latest New York Times data base, “Over the past week, there have been an average of 48,256 cases per day, an increase of 12 percent from the average two weeks earlier.” And, ”As of Sunday morning, more than 7,748,0000 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 214,000 have died.” (“Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” By The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2020)
One can tell that it was the steroid amplifying President Trump’s effort to con Americans into believing his alternative reality for the sake of his presidential campaign. The steroid was especially active in a video Trump released after returning to the White House. He declared himself “cured.” He then said, “If you’re in the hospital and you’re feeling really bad, I think we’re going to work it out that you get them; you’re going to get them free. And especially if you’re a senior, we’re going to get you in there quick.” He emphasized: “I want you to get what I got, and I’m going to make it free. We’re going to get it into the hospital as soon as you can, as soon as we can.” (”Trump returns to Oval Office, declares himself cured of coronavirus,” By Dareh Gregorian and Petr Alexander, www.nbcnews.com, Oct. 7, 2020)
Even as the coronavirus stalked unsuspecting Americans, President Trump was trying to terminate Obamacare , which provides medical coverage for some 20 million Americans, including coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. (See “Trump Is Trying to End Health Care For Millions In the Middle of Pandemic,” By Keya Vakil, Courier, May 12, 2020) So much for Trump’s sudden desire to provide “free” health care for seniors. That was the steroid talking.
Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas provides a reality check in a United Methodist Insight article called, “Something Broke In Me Tonight: ‘Don’t Be Afraid of COVID.’“ What “broke” in her was when President Trump said, “Don’t be afraid of COVID.” She begins her article:
‘Don’t be afraid of Covid’ (as long as you have an at-demand helicopter and pilot, 12 doctors, access to cutting edge medications, a private hospital in your residence and don’t have to pay any of your medical bills.) The rest of you? ‘Be scared sh****ss.’ .. .
The lack of decency and even a shred of human compassion has made Mr. Trump ineligible for any elected office, particularly one where he is expected to have the best interest of EVERY AMERICAN at heart.
My worst fears about Mr. Trump getting COVID have come to pass. He will, assuming his recovery will soon be complete, declare himself invincible, indeed, the Messiah. The One Whom God Has Chosen And Has Eternal Life.
The Religion of Trumpianity will take over. Evangelicals sold their collective souls to this man and have, in the process, destroyed what credibility they had as so-called ‘People of the Book [i.e., The Bible]’ (Oct., 6, 2020)
Still, many people of faith are offering prayers for President Trump’s recovery. Prayer serves various purposes. It may be used to empower or pacify people. Prayer sustains the personal lives of countless people. It strengthens them in the face of sickness and loss and grieving. As a hospital chaplain, I repeatedly witnessed the power of prayer in the personal lives of hospital patients and their loved ones.
However, when applied to the public square, prayer can be used to pacify. It can be another way of folding one’s hands and doing nothing. That is safer. Prayer may lead certain people of faith get up off their knees and engage in social justice issues. Ironically, their critics may include members of their own faith group, and especially their religious superiors, a number of whom often serve as guardians of the status quo. The biggest obstacle of turning prayer into social justice action is often not a political power structure, but a faith leader’s own hierarchical power structure that determines his or her status and advancement.
There will be many prayers for people to recover from the coronavirus. But how many prayers will call for President Trump’s removal from office and prosecution for his willful negligence in causing the sickness and deaths of countless Americans and the related devastation to the economy?
In his article in The Intercept on “Why Are Democrats Praying for the Speedy Recovery of a Fascist Dictator?,’ “ Glenn Greenwald writes, “The typical reaction to the death of a tyrant – whether by revolutionary violence or natural causes – is not one of grief and sadness but joyous celebration. . . . Yet in the U.S., a different dynamic is playing out.” Greenwald reminds us that “prominent Democrats and their media allies . . . commonly . . . refer to President Trump as a dictator, a fascist, a tyrant hell-bent on destroying U.S. democracy, a genocidal racist, and even a Nazi. And yet,” Greenwald continues, “the overwhelming reaction in those mainstream precincts to the news that the fascist dictator has contracted a potential lethal virus is to hope and pray that he makes a speedy recovery whereby he can resume his democracy-destroying, genocidal, tyrannical, fascist rule.” Greenwald says, “It would not just be irrational but madness and moral bankruptcy to hope that the Nazi genocidal fascist makes a speedy recovery and returns to work.” (Oct. 4, 2020)
While Jesus is recorded as saying, “Love your enemies,” he is also recorded as confronting the occupying Roman enemies of his poor and oppressed Jewish people (Luke 4: 18), which led to his crucifixion. It is one thing to pray for your enemies and quite another to risk confronting them and demanding that they be held accountable for destroying people’s lives. Why pray for the health of a tyrant who lives in an alternative universe, is “blessed” by his own “God,” and will merely continue to harm people?