When most people think of prayers, they probably think of believers appealing to God for something inherently positive: peace, the health of loved ones, personal strength in the face of adversity, etc. In the Abrahamic tradition, however, there are also “imprecatory” prayers: appeals to God to do bad things to people you don’t like.
The subject came up this morning when Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) spoke to a group of far-right evangelicals, gathered in D.C. for one of the year’s biggest religious right gatherings. Politico reported:
“You know, I think we are called to pray. We are called to pray for our country, for our leaders, and yes, even our president,” Perdue said during the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority conference in Washington. “You know, in his role as president, I think we should pray for Barack Obama.”But not just any prayer, he suggested, telling attendees that “we need to be very specific about how we pray.”
As the audience laughed and applauded, the Republican senator told attendees, “We should pray like Psalms 109:8 says. It says, ‘Let his days be few, and let another have his office.’”
If you’re inclined to give Perdue the benefit of the doubt, one might take his words at face value, and assume “let his days be few” referred to the president’s remaining days in office before the end of his term, not his death.
But the GOP lawmaker specifically referenced Psalms 109 – which has been popular with anti-Obama extremists since 2009 – and it’s worth knowing exactly what prayer Perdue was talking about.
Exact translations vary, of course, but Psalms 109 is intended as something of a curse. Bible Gateway has this version online:
“May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.“May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven[a] from their ruined homes.“May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.“May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.“May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.“May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.”
“Turn the other cheek” it isn’t. Look up “imprecatory prayers” on Google, and Psalms 109 is one of the first things that comes up.
It’s entirely possible that David Perdue – or whoever wrote his speech – doesn’t know that. Maybe the senator doesn’t understand what an imprecatory prayer is. Perhaps when he said this morning, “We should pray like Psalms 109:8 says,” he had no idea just how provocative a Scriptural reference he was making.
Indeed, the Georgia Republican’s office told reporters after the speech that Perdue “in no way wishes harm towards our president.”
I assume that’s true. But that doesn’t make the senator’s comments any less problematic.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) communications director, Kristen Orthman, said in a statement soon after Perdue’s remarks, “If Republicans are still wondering why Donald Trump is their nominee, look no further than today’s Faith and Freedom conference where a sitting Republican Senator left the impression he was praying for the death of President Obama and then the Republican Leader followed him on stage and did not condemn him.”