Over the past months, there have been a few posters spread around the Marion County Courthouse advertising the celebration of the “National Day of Prayer” for 5 May 2011. Let me say at the outset that I consider this a good idea. We do not do this life thing on our own, and it is only wise to invoke the blessing of Deity regarding all of our serious endeavors.
And so, I trotted downtown early to check this out. It took place on the front balcony of the courthouse where politicians and dignitaries (including at least two of the Senators Kennedy) have spoken over the last 50 years or so. The sponsors had a printed program which promised a lengthy session, and so I parked across the street as I was not up for the prolonged standing this was going to require.
From the title, you might imagine (correctly) that I have some modestly critical things to say about this prayer celebration. But let me begin on a positive note or three. The idea of going to the Lord in prayer is thoroughly sound. Do you disagree? Fine, the First Amendment is quite sound, too. No problem. And there were some heartfelt and thought-provoking prayers offered up. Friend and brother from the Fellowship Barry gave a clear and simple request for blessing upon our public servants, those who live the “greater love hath no man…” life. The Sheriff made an equally stirring prayer to God for the safety of our law enforcement officers. (Parenthetically, the conventional wisdom is that the sheriff is politically vulnerable in the next election. I don’t really buy that. A West Virginia Sheriff has both law enforcement duties and is the chief tax collector of the County, but the voters don’t care about the tax collection thing. They look for the law officer image, and Sheriff Carpenter is fit, squared away, and fits that image precisely.) And I was glad to see Pastor Ken Wright, although I confess I started with the expectation that he would be a kind, loving servant of Christ, for he was the pastor at Fairmont General Hospital the afternoon my mother died and I will always remember his a kindness and calm demeanor. Pastor Wright called upon those present to treat all people of whatever station in life equally and even reminded himself that it times he failed in that. That, friends, is a man of God. He also offered a prayer of salvation which rather reminds me of some of the work of noted atheist entertainer Penn Gillette. And, of course, and my friend Pastor James Saunders focused on young people, whose growth and development are his passion.
Okay, that’s the good stuff.
I have to tell you, there was also some pretty weird stuff going on. When I first tuned in, someone was in the middle of a prayer asking that God remove various justices from the United States Supreme Court and West Virginia Supreme Court. That does seem to be rather a specific request and just a bit cheeky thing to be concluding that God must do. That pastor was followed by a representative of our acting governor, and that representative gave one of the dead bang tackiest presentations one could imagine. He mentioned the name of our acting governor (who is a candidate in the primary election this Saturday, 14 May) at least 10 times. He called upon God to fill our acting governor with strength as he goes about his great responsibilities. He asked God to fill our acting governor [name inserted] with grace and to bless him that his love of his people will be sincere, and that he will be never lacking in zeal. God gave me a minor blessing when a couple of coal trucks coming up the street to give me a break from this silly, syrupy slop. But after they passed, the speaker noted that with leadership comes opportunity and exhorted all present to pray for the acting governor, and his family, and specifically to “protect him from the evil one.” Come on, guys, he’s in politics, so that’s a pretty extreme request even to make of the Lord. And finally, on behalf of [name inserted], God was earnestly thanked for [name inserted]. Frankly, I cannot blame the acting governor for this, because I cannot imagine any successful politician sanctioning that performance, let alone planning it in advance.
Other pastors had rather interesting presentation styles. One asked “how dare they…” do various things she deemed offensive to God. Some of those offensive things are commonly done by humanists, atheists, Muslims, liberal Christians, and moderate Christians, just to name a few. Also, I have heard that God knows the following the sparrow, but this particular pastor exhorted him at such volume that I’m thinking a few sparrows got lost in the shuffle. Another pastor directed God to take notice of certain moral issues “so dear to your heart.” Again, I hesitate to give God marching orders. This pastor touched on a husband’s responsibility of leadership (works for me, I guess, but I guess to be safe I better ask) and the wife’s role in making a home a mighty place. He lumped together various impurities of the lustful variety including fornication, child molestation, cohabitation and pornography, but did not try to rank them. At least, I don’t think so. Maybe he meant that they all are of equal rank, but ‘round the West Virginia penitentiary, you may be guaranteed that fornicators and child molesters have rather different experiences. That’s fine with me, by the way.
We were treated to more screaming and haranguing of the specific militant variety (that the people of God should be wearing battle gear, possibly meant metaphorically) and I kept reminding myself I needed to be listening to this without judgment or at least to withhold judgment. That particular pastor declared that America will fulfill God’s plan.
There was the usual “culture of death” abortion prayer which is, of course, pretty much a hot button thing among many churches.
There was a specific prayer for the upcoming election by a lady who exhorted God to elect “a man with a fathering heart.” There are two women running, one of whom has a decent shot, and I doubt if this pastor was excluding them intentionally. She did exhort everyone to vote for righteousness’ sake and to vote God’s will, and specifically ask God to eliminate gambling and strip clubs. (As is the case with lots of sin, diseconomics and disapprobation are more likely to lead to their discontinuation.) Oh, she mentioned that we were praying to the Christian God but modified it to include the Judeo Christian God. Oopsie, so much for you “spiritual but not religious” people out there. We were reminded later about our duty to protect the (political) state of Israel from all the enemies around them who “want to wipe them off the face of the earth.” (Nobody mentioned that Israel has South African nuclear warheads and so far as we know, the Arabs don’t.) God was directed to restore to the Jews what had been stolen from them and under the circumstances it would have been inconsistent to point out that the Palestinians disagree with that perspective. So, for that matter, to the Delaware and Shawnee formerly roamed these hills. Oh, don’t the Israelis still hold the Golan Heights? How long were they Syrian?
I remember a discussion with beloved Pastor Josh when I was a bit confused over some theological things. He taught me at that time that one very powerful prayer is to ask the Lord “Please teach me how to pray.” There was my problem with this whole National Day of Prayer celebration in Marion County. It was so much anti-. It was anti-discussion, anti-reasoning, anti-arguing, anti-persuasion, anti-listening, anti-loving and anti-lots of doctrines sound in red in your red letter editions to the Bible. So many of the pastors were not praying for things much as commanding this and that in God’s name and giving God his to-do list.
I am way too dumb to spout theology. “Lord, please teach me to pray,” is usually about the best I can do.
And yes, I certainly do recognize that a good bit of what I say here is squarely contrary to my opinions recently expressed about the late and unlamented Osama.
Lord, please teach me to pray.