I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately, and I have been fascinated by the remarks of some of the Capitol invaders last week. More than one prayer was thrown up that day — many “for our country”. In fact many, many news articles have mentioned the role prayer played that day, even before the rioting began:
And then on Wednesday morning before daybreak, there was nearly a mile-long line of Trump supporters arriving for this rally. So you could tell this was going to be a big one. I got to the Capitol around 10 a.m., along with NPR producer Lauren Hodges. There were only a few dozen people there at the time. They were praying for an intervention, chanting, you know, just really hoping for anything that could stop the vote certification. And even from that early, the mood was already tense and angry.News Brief: Rioters Storm U.S. Capitol, Congress Ratifies Biden Victory, January 7, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/07/954324501/morning-news-brief
This man from New Jersey described how he went to DC to achieve his prayer goals to one reporter1:
Many attendees described a type of fervor they felt that drew them to the Capitol. For 48-year-old Leonard Guthrie Jr., it manifested in his faith in the Lord. … When he heard about the “Stop the Steal” rally, Guthrie thought he could combine his two passions. If he and other Christians had been able to pray outside while senators voted inside, he feels certain it would have changed their votes. “I know it would have,” he said.The Capitol mob: A raging collection of grievances and disillusionment, By Amy Brittain, Julie Zauzmer, Jenn Abelson, David Willman, and Nicole Dungca, January 10, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2021/01/10/capitol-rioters-identified-arrested/?arc404=true
On the grounds of the Capitol, public prayers were going up:
A woman wearing a “What would Jesus do?” sandwich board read from scripture before handing the mic to someone who led a prayer for the police.The four-hour insurrection, By Marc Fisher, Meagan Flynn, Jessica Contrera, and Carol D Leonnig, January 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2021/politics/trump-insurrection-capitol/
And from underneath the chairs in the House chamber:
I kept thinking that even though we were all sheltering under our chairs, we weren’t under any real threat.
And then the glass shattered.
A pane in the glass of the intricate doors to the Speaker’s Lobby were smashed through by rioters as they tried to make it onto the House floor and attack the very center of democracy in America.
I caught glimpses of the standoff below as officers barricaded the door and drew their guns to defend the dozens of people inside.
I started to hear the quiet whispering of prayer. A congresswoman I often see but didn’t recognize was holding the hands of other members as she crouched down and was praying over the group.Inside the House chamber as the Capitol was overrun by an angry mob, By Henry Talbot, Jan. 9, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/inside-house-chamber-capitol-was-overrun-angry-mob-n1253640
The House chaplain was kept busy:
Then, word came: The crowds outside had turned into a violent mob. The Trump-supporting extremists had overpowered police and were storming into the U.S. Capitol. It was time to evacuate.
As the work of lawmakers ground to a halt, Kibben’s began in earnest: A House clerk looked over at the chaplain and asked if she could offer a prayer.
“I thought: ‘Well, I’ve been praying all along,’” she said. …
“It was a matter of asking for God’s covering and a hedge of protection around us,” she said, remembering the House recorder was diligently documenting her words as she prayed. “And that in the chaos, the spirit would descend in the room to offer us peace and order. That we would look to care for each other, even as we are under stress.”
Capitol police began swiftly escorting lawmakers and House staff out of the room shortly thereafter. As others concentrated on getting out, Kibben concentrated on them: She began working the column of evacuees, offering what comfort she could to anyone who needed it. …
The group eventually reached a secure location, but tensions continued to run high. As security personnel offered status updates, those sequestered with Kibben were increasingly aware of the chaos swarming outside the door. Insurrectionists were breaking into the offices of lawmakers and engaging in violent clashes with law enforcement that would leave at least five dead — including one police officer.
Kibben was asked to pray once again. She began by reading from the Bible’s Psalm 46, the same passage she had included in her scheduled prayer before the House that morning. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.”
She then prayed for a “covering of peace and shelter” and lifted up prayers for those ransacking the Capitol — that those “who felt so strongly against us” might come to understand that the lawmakers they decry ultimately want precisely what the attackers insist they were denied: “That our legislative process is appropriate and legal and representative.”
As she finished, the room was quiet. …
“It’s a sense of ‘God’s got this,’ and I am but an instrument of bringing God into this moment,” she said.‘I was closing my eyes and praying’: Washington’s Rep. Pramila Jayapal describes sheltering in place as mob breaks into Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/i-was-closing-my-eyes-and-praying-washingtons-rep-pramila-jayapal-describes-sheltering-in-place-as-mob-breaks-into-capitol/
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Capitol during the siege: 2
They could see Trump supporters streaming toward the building — and just four police officers.
Outside the door, the intruders kept coming, as if running laps, trying to open doors. The McConnell aides heard a woman praying loudly outside their door for “the evil of Congress to be brought to an end.”
Calls for help were going out as fast as people could text and dial.Inside the Capitol siege: How barricaded lawmakers and aides sounded urgent pleas for help as police lost control, By Karoun Demirjian, Carol D. Leonnig, Paul Kane and Aaron C. Davis, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-capitol-siege/2021/01/09/e3ad3274-5283-11eb-bda4-615aaefd0555_story.html
And even after the riots, prayers continued:
After the deadly Capitol siege, the prophecies continued — that Trump will remain in power.
“Anyone who thinks this ends tonight is totally mistaken … you are still the president and we need you to stay on the front lines, sir,” prophet Mario Bramnick, one of Trump’s faith advisers, said Jan. 7.
“We thank God for exposing and foiling all the plans of the enemy set against him. We affirm his lawful election and pray for four more years with Donald Trump as our president!” the 24/7 National Strategic Prayer Call, a 10,000-member Arkansas-based ministry that hosts weekly live prayer calls, told its listeners Monday.
Unfortunately for the praying Trumpists and prophet Bramnick, if He heard their prayers, God did not heed them, and Joe Biden was confirmed as the winner of the electoral college. Donald Trump will not have four more years as president of the United States.
So you have to wonder, if God did not heed the insurrectionist’s prayers (which I’m sure were sincere), does this mean God did heed the prayers of those in chambers — the people hiding under chairs, fearing for their lives? I mean, they WERE saved, after all. The secret service and FBI took over from the overwhelmed Capitol Police and got all the building occupants to safety. The rodeo clowns and army cosplayers and prayerful trespassers were unsuccessful in their aims to stop the electoral college vote, which must mean God answered the prayers of beseiged congressfolk, and He ignore prayers from insurrectionists, right? Those in chamber “overcame”, so by virtue of their success, we know they are God’s chosen, right? By this reasoning, Capitol insurrectionists should roll over. God is not on their side.
If you’ve ever read this blog before (and let’s face it, you haven’t — nobody does), you know I don’t believe in this either/or godly favoritism for one minute. I don’t believe it for even a second, to be honest. I think there’s a third option that too many of us don’t want to look at:
God doesn’t care about politics.
I’m serious here. I don’t think God gives a flying flip about politics.
I realize what this must sound like coming from a Mormon when the founding of the United States is enshrined in our scripture as the culmination of a holy, God-directed string of events that were put into motion to bring into being a nation where religious freedom existed and in which His church could be restored. I don’t know how to sit with that, and I am not going to wrestle with it here.
But I don’t think God cares about who wins the presidency any more than He cares about who wins the next Miss Berryville beauty pageant or football game. The implications of God interfering in beauty pageants or football games is ridiculous on its face. Why, then, do so many seem to think they can pray to change the outcome of elections — the same principle?
Maybe it’s the stakes — nations rising and falling affect people in important ways, so God must care, right? But perhaps we should remember that nations rising and falling has not stopped human progress or wiped us all out yet, and there’s no reason to expect it will this time. A governmental failure is significant, but not catastrophic for humanity at large. Consider the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Those people begged for help from God, “His country” the US, and more. They fought as best they could. But the Crimea is Russian now. Why? Does God like the Russians better? Is He punishing the Ukrainians? Did the Ukrainians not have enough faith?
Or is God Switzerland?
For some reason there is a huge number of us that think of God like a puppetmaster, pulling strings on everyone else to align with the goals we set and wishes we have. Free will exists only for me. The rest of you are being controlled by God who answers my prayers (but not yours — unless they align with mine). It’s absurd.
A lot of us think this way, as it turns out. They aren’t flat-earthers, believing the sun revolves around the earth — they are worse: they’re nationalists, imagining this universe revolves around the United States (excluding California or Alabama, depending on leanings). The hubris.
These folks will claim that what they pray for and what does happen is God’s will, and whatever they pray for and doesn’t happen isn’t His will. They’ll never accept that what they prayed for was … wrong … if it didn’t happen. It just wasn’t God’s will. They ignore the more obvious, and to me, more consistent answer: God’s just not that into your stuff. Actually, based on what I have experienced of God, a better way is to say He’s into everyone’s stuff, and your baptism or saved statement or priesthood or passionate desire won’t make Him elevate your wishes over anyone else’s, no matter whose party or team or religion or country you side with. I am not sure I could even say with certainty that God elevates His own side over anyone else’s.
But isn’t that what so many of us are trying to do with so many of our prayers? Aren’t we asking God to elevate our wishes above others? Aren’t we trying to control others instead of respecting and working with them? Aren’t we trying to control or change events instead of creatively dealing with them? Aren’t we trying to persuade God to put aside the needs of others? Why?
Too often I think prayers for others are a way of abdicating our human responsibility to others. With prayers for others we claim we will “put it in God’s hands”, but we don’t do any work beyond expressing a wish. Prayers without action are every bit as effective as making a wish while blowing out a candle on a birthday cake. At least after a birthday wish, there’s still a cake to enjoy. Prayer without action leaves us with nothing but smug self-righteousness — and no cake. It’s so much easier to just “let go and let God” than to do the hard work of living with and loving our brothers and sisters.
I’m trying really hard to stop trying to change others and instead live with them. I’m failing, as this post shows, because even here I’m trying to convince you to stop praying about politics and instead take political action. I watched a presentation on practical peacemaking yesterday from MWEG. One of the things the presenter, Emily de Schweinitz Taylor, said stuck with me. She said competing as a means of conflict resolution isn’t necessarily bad, as long as your motive is not to hurt someone, but to help them. I hope my motives are pure here — I really do want to help people to be more thoughtful about prayer and respectful of others’ agency and belief. But I’m also self-interested: if people would stop praying for my mind to change, I’d feel a lot less conflicted about my own faith and the role of prayer in my relationship with Him.
- I’m weirded out by the number of people who think prayer changes others’ minds, but only if offered in close proximity to the person whose mind you’d like to change. Like, who thinks if they get close enough to you, then (and only then apparently — prayers from home would not work) God will send His mighty power down and somehow convince you to think as they do about something as frankly silly as who is the next President of the United States? Lots of Christians think this way, as it turns out.
- Of course, if you believe that you must be near the person whose mind you want God to change in order for your prayers to work, perhaps a violent insurrection is necessary. Protests of any kind — including protest prayer — are not allowed in the Capitol. Nuns and others have been arrested in the Capitol for praying in protest.