The Pastor Platt Presidential Prayer Apology*: A Study in Hate

Yesterday I published a column in The American Spectator on a controversy that erupted after a Baptist pastor in D.C. prayed for President Trump during a church service. You can read the full article here. In summary, the pastor, David Platt, was caught unaware when the President appeared at his church and asked for prayer. Platt did what pastors are supposed to do and prayed for him. Controversy followed and Platt issued a statement that felt like an apology.

My article was not an attack on Platt. I was careful to say that I was not questioning his sincerity or motives. I was not questioning his courage. And I was not holding this man up for public ridicule or abuse. Besides, even if it was my purpose to attack something that he did – and that was not in view here – I have a rule to which I generally adhere: when you must attack, attack the idea or action, not the man. Sensible people read it that way but it didn’t stop some from posting vicious (and anonymous) comments at the end of the article. Here is a fair sampling:

“Like way too many others, the pastor is a total coward and deserves to reflect on the old adage that ‘… a coward dies a thousand deaths but a hero only one.’ That’s exactly what that coward deserves.”

“This pastor’s statement is shameful. What is he trying to make excuses for? There must be some well-to-do liberal church members whose donations he doesn’t want to lose. If that’s the case, he doesn’t have a clue how to be a pastor.”

“Another weasily minister/priest….”

“Pastor David Platt: another clueless and spineless Christian ‘leader.’”

“Pastors like this who bow down to the will of man and not the will of God. This pastor knows in his heart he blew it. Another cheap suit, an empty vessel, no courage. He really should find another line of work.”

In my line of work you learn not to read comments. (I know, I violated my own rule here!) They are seldom positive, intelligent, or accurate. The only reason news outlets allow them is to increase public engagement of online content for marketing purposes. These comments are typical.

What made these comments noteworthy, however, is that many of them are written by people who are either Christians or think they are Christians. That should give you pause.

Charles Spurgeon once said: “A lie will go ’round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” That has never been truer than today. Comments like those above do not represent something new in human evolution; human nature is what it has always been. But the online world allows us to spread the poison of hate, lies, and gossip in a nanosecond. Modern man is smug and thinks himself more civilized than those who attended public executions in previous centuries. We are not more civilized. Were executions in this country held in public squares today, I am confident the crowds would be huge and someone would live stream it. That is the ugliness of the human heart that is deaf to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

The Lord has taught Lauri and me through recent experience that self-righteousness is the most insidious of all sins. This is because the pride that fuels our self-righteousness blinds us to the “planks” in our own eyes. Jesus’ greatest success was with those whose sins were of a public nature – the harlot, the tax collector, or the outcast. Why? Because they needed no convincing of their need for his grace and salvation. They knew it. The self-righteous reminded them of it at every opportunity not knowing that their wickedness and need for Christ was just as great.

We are a wicked, cruel, and sinful species. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit working in us constantly to beat down our default inclinations to think ourselves better and more worthy than the next guy. When it comes to sin and the Cross, we tell ourselves that our sin is not really all that bad. We deserved forgiveness! But others? No! He or she deserves what he gets!

There is, of course, a place for calling a brother or sister to repentance. Galatians 6:1-3 gives us direction on how this is done. But that’s not what this was, it is not what these Christian commenters were doing, and even if Platt was guilty of some transgression – and he wasn’t – internet forums are not the place to bring our wayward back into the fold.

So, the next time you feel the bile of self-righteousness rising in your throat, swallow hard and recall this simple fact: your sins, no matter how insignificant you judge them to be, required Jesus to die for them so that you might have eternal life. Remembering that will go far toward keeping things in perspective. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:3:

“If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Larry Alex Taunton is an author, cultural commentator, and freelance columnist contributing to USA TODAYFox NewsFirst ThingsThe AtlanticCNN, and The American Spectator.  In addition to being a frequent radio and television guest, he is also the author of The Grace Effect and The Gospel Coalition Arts and Culture Book of the Year, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com.
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