Prayers for the president: What’s in a name?

By Episcopal Journal

The installation of Donald Trump as president is proving to be so toxic to some Episcopalians that they say they cannot speak his name if their church includes the portion of the prayers of the people that reads, “for our President, N., for the leaders of the nations, and for all in authority.”

“We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president-elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people — particularly women and people for whom, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety,” wrote the Rev. Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, Calif., on the church’s blog.

He explained in the Jan. 6 post that All Saints would pray for the president, but not by name. “We have removed the proper names from our prayers for those in authority. Whereas before we prayed for ‘Barack, our president,’ we are now praying for ‘our president, our president-elect and all others in authority,’” Kinman wrote.

Episcopalians “pray for our leaders because they are human beings, made in God’s image and beloved by God,” he said. “We pray for our leaders regardless of whether or not we like or agree with them. Our prayers are neither endorsement nor censure. Our prayers ask God to guard and guide.” But, he said, “prayer should never be a trauma-causing act.”

Katie Sherrod, a former member of Executive Council, echoed his view in a Facebook post.

“Watching Trump in the second debate — a town hall forum — in which he stalked around while [Democratic candidate Hillary] Clinton was speaking, interrupted her constantly, then stood close behind her scowling and looking threatening left me and hundreds of thousands of other women who watched, according to news reports, feeling terrified, anxious, tense, shaking, nauseous — all common PTSD responses. Why? Because his body language, his gas lighting [denial of reality], his dismissive ridiculing tone, his bullying were — and remain — classic actions of an abuser or stalker. His bragging about actually sexually assaulting women confirmed this instinctual reaction to the man,” she wrote.

A “trigger,” she said, “evokes emotional and muscle memory of a terrible traumatic event, causing responses as if the abuse/trauma were happening again. If that event is one that has been repeatedly imposed on a person, like being stalked or battered or raped or assaulted by a partner, the trauma is deep seated.”

Trump’s “name itself has become a trigger for many women,” Sherrod wrote. ”So when women say they cannot bring themselves to pray for Trump by name, please believe them. They. Cannot. Say. His. Name. And hearing it spoken by their spiritual leaders in a place they go for sanctuary can feel very like betrayal and renewed abuse.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, however, recalled a time when black congregants “prayed for leaders who were often lukewarm or even opposed to our very civil rights … We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we marched on Washington. Following the way of Jesus, we prayed and protested at the same time.”

Sherrod said women were “praying — even if they cannot use a name — and they are protesting. They do not have to be complicit in their own abuse.”

Others have said that Trump’s name should be included.

“His name should be included for many reasons: theological, social, political, practical, biblical and historical,” wrote Dean Michael T. Sniffen of Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, N.Y., Diocese of Long Island, on the cathedral’s website.

“If you are concerned that people in the pews will be literally traumatized or re-traumatized by hearing Donald Trump’s name, you seriously underestimate the strength of God’s people who have survived trauma,” Sniffen wrote.

“Healing from trauma comes most profoundly when we name what we have survived or are surviving in the strength of the community on our own terms. There is no better or more effective place for the church to do this than in our common prayers,” he said.

Also, he said, “prayers of intercession and petition are distinct from praise for a person or situation. Prayer for a person is not collusion with that person. It is not an endorsement of that person’s ideas, actions or inactions.”

Sniffen noted that Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”

The cathedral congregation “has been praying for Trump by name since the first Sunday after Election Day, even as we offered pastoral care to those who were gravely concerned about his election and those who were elated,” he said.