GOP Sen. David Perdue Denies Wanting Obama Dead in Biblical Quote

The media are “pushing a narrative to create controversy," his office says.

ByABC News
June 10, 2016, 4:29 PM
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. addresses the Road to Majority Conference, June 10, 2016, in Washington.
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. addresses the Road to Majority Conference, June 10, 2016, in Washington.
Cliff Owen/AP Photo

— -- The office of Sen. David Perdue insisted he was not praying for the death of President Obama today, as some critics have said, when he recited a particular Biblical passage during a speech.

The Georgia Republican was speaking at the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” event when he said, “I think we're called to pray for our country, for our leaders and, yes, even our president. Now in his role as president, I think we should pray for Barack Obama.

“But I think we need to be very specific about how we pray. We should pray like Psalms 109:8 says. It says, 'Let his days be few, let another have his office,’” Perdue added.

After some laughter, he went on to say, "In all seriousness, I believe that America is at a moment of crisis."

The next verse, which he did not recite, reads “may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”

Democrats accused Perdue of wishing for Obama’s death.

“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,” Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote in an email.

In response to questions about the phrase, a spokeswoman for Perdue accused the media of “pushing a narrative to create controversy.”

"Senator Perdue said we are called to pray for our country, for our leaders, and for our president. He in no way wishes harm towards our president and everyone in the room understood that,” spokeswoman Megan Whittemore said in a statement.

The passage is one of the Bible’s “imprecatory psalms,” which as Harvard Divinity School professor Michael Coogan explained to ABC News, is “one of the best examples of an extended series of calling upon God to punish or curse one’s enemy.”

“About half the [imprecatory] psalms are individuals praying to God for help in various situations, and often those situations is one in which the praying individual precedes that he is being persecuted, perhaps unjustly by enemies who are often described in hyperbolic terms like ‘raging lions’ or ‘a pack of dogs’ or something like that,” Coogan said.

When asked what he thought about the use of this psalm in a political speech, Coogan responded, “I can’t imagine that he meant this literally. I think it was tongue in cheek.”

Graham A. Cole, the dean and vice president of education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, also weighed in.

"It puzzles me that this psalm was used in this way. It is technically a psalm of lament. That is to say, that it expresses anguish over the state of affairs the psalmist is in. The senator clearly feels such anguish.

“However, the line quoted does not make much sense in the present context. President Obama will indeed be out of office soon and another will take his place. I do not think that the senator's use of the line necessarily means he wishes death for the president," Cole wrote in an email.

This isn’t the first time a public official’s use of this 109th chapter of the Old Testament book has elicited some measure of controversy.

A Florida sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay in 2010 when he left an open Bible with the verse highlighted on a colleague’s desk with a note that said “The Obama Prayer.”