There’s a scene in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi that I will never forget.
Gandhi is strolling along a sidewalk in South Africa with his newfound friend, Anglican priest Charles Andrews. Up ahead, some thugs gather to enforce a law that prohibited people of color from travelling on public pathways.
Gandhi strides resolutely forward, but Andrews suggests that they turn aside. Gandhi replies, “Doesn’t the New Testament say that if your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the left?”
“Why, I, uh, think perhaps the phrase was used metaphorically,” says Andrews. “I don’t think that the Lord would…”
“I’m not so sure,” interrupts Gandhi. “I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect he meant you must show courage, be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back, nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that, it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred for you decreased, and his respect increased. I think Christ grasped that, and I have seen that work.”
When they reach the ruffians, Gandhi will not yield. There is a fierce clarity in his eyes, a mixture of determination and love that causes his would-be attackers to relent.
That moment bored into me like one of Jesus’s parables.
You see, in my 32 years of ordained ministry I have aggressively refuted Biblical literalism. I have challenged those who use “proof texts” to oppress women, discriminate against my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or demand allegiance to unjust authorities. I question those who treat ancient myths like science. I insist that scripture is story, a collection of writings conditioned by their times and places. We must read them with both historical knowledge and current insight through the Holy Spirit. Literalism is often the death of evolving spirituality.
Yet, there was Gandhi, internalizing the most seminal teaching of Jesus—love your enemies–and applying it SO literally that he eventually sparked a nonviolent revolution that ousted England from India
It begs a question. Are we sometimes remiss in not taking scripture at face value?
This brings me to Donald Trump….
I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say that Trump is an affront to everything I hold dear. You could even say that, symbolically, he is an enemy of mine.
I also have a confession. Except in perfunctory petitions for elected leaders, I have never prayed personally for our president. This is true even though I know Jesus said, “Do not return evil for evil,” “Love your enemies,” and “Pray for those who persecute you.”
I wonder what would happen to the polarized climate of our country if every one of my progressive Christian friends prayed daily for Donald Trump. I am not suggesting that we dampen our struggles for justice. I am saying that we do so even as we pray sincerely for our enemy.
Many of you will dismiss or disdain this suggestion. What’s the point of praying for someone whose narcissistic personality will never change?
If you are among those, I ask you to remember these words from Soren Kierkegaard, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
And so, I have begun to pray for Donald Trump with sentiments similar to these.
“Loving God, Giver of Life, you cause the rain to fall on all of us. A thousand years are like a single day in your sight. You are the final arbiter of justice, and you call us to practice love even when it is difficult. Right now, I pray for Donald Trump. I pray for your Presence to enter his heart and the hearts of his family members. Fill them with a surprising new awareness of your love and grace, those gifts lavished freely on each of us, even when we don’t deserve them. I pray this in the name of Jesus, the one who modeled love for his enemies. Amen.”
Will you join me?