As Franklin Graham stepped up to the podium at President Trump’s inauguration, I took a deep breath, hoping for something powerful.
“Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”
You could almost hear the collective groan of Christian people around the globe, I know mine was audible. It’s not that Rev Graham was wrong – technically, he wasn’t – it’s more than that.
Many years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting with a church congregation discussing a project they were desperate to get off the ground. It was a project that some wanted and others questioned. At times it felt like it was moving, but for the past year it had felt as if everything was going against it.
At one point in the meeting someone stood up to speak: “I think all these doors closing are a sign that we need to stop, reflect and think again. To pray and ask God what He wants for this.”
Some quiet nods of interest and affirmation were joined by some worried faces and disapproving murmurs.
A few moments later another person stood up to say: “I just think the fact that we’re meeting so much opposition and so many closing doors means we’re on the right path and being attacked. We should push on with the plans and make it happen.”
There it was. Stalemate.
Those in favour of pushing ahead had God’s mandate to move.
Those in favour of thinking again had God’s permission to pause.
The meeting went on, but for me it was finished. God was, at once, both for and against the idea. And therefore removed from their equation.
As President Trump spoke and it started to rain, my Facebook and Twitter lit up with people telling me what it meant.
“It’s a sign.”
And some more satirical suggestions that aren’t for here…
And then Franklin Graham helpfully stepped up to tell us all that, in fact, God was showering his blessings on the 45th president of the United States of America. And, for me, it was finished. As once again we had tried to remove God from the equation. At once both horrified and thrilled. Showering scorn and blessing in equal measure depending on how you read it, or what side you needed Him to be on today.
It was a platform to ask that God would indeed bless the President, bless him with wisdom, good judgement, wise advisors and a humility of spirit that has led all great leaders from the earliest days of humanity.
A chance to speak of a God who knows no political affiliation, but instead stands for – amongst other things – love, peace, joy, and self-control. Who fights against injustice, protects the vulnerable and welcomes the visitor… Although that might have been deemed “political.”
Instead he did what we’ve probably all been guilty of: co-opting God onto our ‘side’ like the playground football team who first notice Lionel Messi inexplicably waiting to be picked.
On a day and in a moment when our eyes should have been raised in hope, God was instead invoked as an invisible backer. The big guy who waits to smite enemies or silence opponents.
I hope God does bless President Trump, with more than I can even imagine.
I hope that love, peace, selflessness, and all those other things become the hallmark of this Presidency, far exceeding my cynical expectations or political blinkers.
But above all, I hope we learn to stop guessing and start listening; to stop reaching and start following; to stop looking for a God that backs us up, and start working to put God’s beautiful world back together.