Editor’s Note: The Rev. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The Rev. Patrick H. O’Connor is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.
The pastors of two New York churches have unique connections to Donald Trump
They write about praying with him and their hopes that he will listen to leaders of all faiths
We are the pastors of two New York churches with unique connections to President-elect Donald J. Trump.
Patrick is the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, where the President-elect’s mother, Mary, an immigrant from Scotland, was a member, and where her son was baptized and confirmed. When he takes the oath of office, Mr. Trump will rest his hand on the Lincoln Bible and on the Bible given to him “by the Sunday Church School of the First Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, New York, Children’s Day, June 12, 1955.”
Scott is the senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian stands closer to Trump Tower than any church in the city. Sitting in his office, Mr. Trump has a direct view of the Celtic cross atop the church’s spire.
In early December, we offered to pray for and speak with the President-elect. He accepted. Wednesday afternoon we offered him our counsel as he assumes the leadership of our country.
Some will criticize our visit. Some worry that we will be “used.” But our worry, and the reason we wrote to Mr. Trump in the first place, is that the people who will interpret the American religious landscape to the new administration will not represent the breadth and depth of our country’s faith communities.
Views on the Donald Trump Inauguration
Proponents of the prosperity gospel (such as Paula White) already have Mr. Trump’s ear. He also spoke to us about his strong support among evangelicals. We explained that we come neither from prosperity gospel churches nor from the evangelical wing of American Christianity. We pastor “purple churches” – congregations that are economically, racially and politically diverse, strong in faith, active in community.
The United States is full of purple churches. Millions of Americans worship in diverse congregations, where believers have figured out how to overcome political disagreements and work together to build up individuals, families and neighborhoods. We want a government that helps to further this important work.
“You’re all Christians,” Mr. Trump responded.
Yes, we nodded. We are all Christians. As Christians, we all seek to follow Jesus Christ. But we don’t always agree on which steps will lead us in that direction.
We hope, Mr. Trump, as you begin to lead this country, that you and your administration will listen to a diversity of Christians, and a diversity of leaders from other faiths, too. Local churches (and synagogues and mosques) are on the front lines as our nation seeks to address its most pressing issues: racism, homelessness, immigration, health care, economic opportunity and opiate addiction. We try to be mindful of how Scripture instructs us, over and over, to “give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3)
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Patrick’s church in Queens is 354 years old – older than the nation itself. In a way, this church is a mirror of our country. Once it was full of Scottish immigrants dreaming the dream. Now it is packed with African-Americans, and Afro-Caribbean, African and Latino immigrants, all dreaming the same dream, and hoping for opportunity, fairness and justice in this land.
Scott’s church in Manhattan sits on the most expensive retail corridor in the world. Steps away from Ralph Lauren and Henri Bendel, the church has offered year-round shelter and services to the homeless of the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
What voices will speak for the immigrant, for the homeless, for purple-church Christianity in the coming four years?
We invited Mr. Trump to come see our ministries at work. We offered our counsel.
We ended our short visit with Mr. Trump in prayer. We asked for God’s help in healing deep societal rifts and in stepping forward to create a nation that serves all of its people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and in need.
“Deliver us, loving God, from rancor and cynicism,” we prayed. “Encourage us to kindness. Teach us to mend the tattered places in this society. Give us hope and holy perspective for the living of these days.”
“Amen,” Mr. Trump said.
A prayer for the United States of America and the President-elect
Almighty God, all the people of the earth are yours. We are all your children.
Your will is done when governments are rightly administered, liberty is preserved, justice is decreed, dignity is assured, and care is extended to the most vulnerable of your children.
This day, we ask that you would look with favor on President-elect Donald J. Trump. Protect him and keep his family safe. Grant to him equal doses of courage and humility. Guide him as he makes countless decisions. Give him wisdom and mercy. Enable him to find the right words: good words, true words, healing words.
Our country’s differences and divisions are vast. Deliver us, loving God, from rancor and cynicism. Forgive our sins. Encourage us to kindness. Teach us to mend the tattered places in this society. Give us hope and holy perspective for the living of these days.
Tender Creator, in some ways – important ways – we all want the same things. We want opportunity. We want fairness from our government. We want safety. We want order. We want clean water and fresh air. We want to come home at night, feeling like we are making progress, like we are part of something bigger than ourselves, like we matter. We all want to matter.
Give to us all, O Lord, in this time, common purpose and an uncommon commitment to this great country. Help us to work together to achieve a more perfect union – a nation that is more than the sum of its parts.
Mold the President-elect into your servant. Help him to lead us in pursuing your extraordinary vision.
This we pray in the name of the one who calls all people to reconciling and redemptive work, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.