“Faithful America” and a Faithful America

“Faithful America” and a Faithful America

Dear friend,

You might be surprised to hear that Mike O’Neal, the Republican Speaker of the Kansas State House, is praying for President Obama.

Unfortunately, he’s praying for the President’s death. And he’s exploiting the Bible to do so, circulating an email that cites Psalm 109: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”

Sadly, it’s not unusual for Republican politicians to use hate-filled rhetoric when speaking about President Obama. But when they exploit religion to do so, people of faith have a moral responsibility to condemn it.

That’s why I just signed Faithful America’s petition calling for Speaker O’Neal to resign.

Will you join me and add your name by following the link below?

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2518/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=9141&tag=tafpush

Thanks!

            The text above is from an e-mail circulated by the group “Faithful America.”  Anyone wishing more information on the group can find it here:  http://www.faithfulamerica.org/index.html

First, it should be admitted that Speaker O’Neal has a ready answer to the charge that he prayed for Obama’s death.  The fact is, he has a history of forwarding racist and stupid e-mails without thinking about them, reading them through or considering the fact that as Speaker of the House he has a duty to all Kansans and not just his political base.  Just as he did not think referring to the First Lady as “YoMamma” was any problem, so here he didn’t think that praying that Malia and Sasha to be fatherless was particularly hostile.  He just didn’t read the Bible verse particularly well before quoting it—which is hardly unusual for a politician.

There are two larger questions here.  One is the fitness for leadership of someone who continues to forward such questionable e-mails, and even continues to associate with those who would send him such tripe.  But the even larger question is, what is the role of faith in American politics?  I’d like to look at that issue here.

First, praying for the death of leaders has become a common practice among the Religious Right.  Pastor Wiley Drake (radio host and pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, CA) has proudly defended his prayers that Obama die http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUHS5u8v1Ck and before then, Pat Robertson prayed for the death of Supreme Court justices.  Other pastors have prayed for the deaths of Democratic politicians and of judges who ruled in ways the pastors didn’t like, and one has even gone so far as to claim that God wants us to not only disagree with Obama, but to hate him.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIW27p4BI_g&feature=fvwrel.  Some of these pastors, such as Drake, are actually pretty ignorant.  I’m not saying you need a college education to know God’s will, but if you are going to interpret a book written more than two thousand years ago in a language not your own, you probably need some help.  Otherwise you risk misinterpreting the actual meaning of the words and substituting your own feelings and preferences for the actual spirit of God.  When the followers of Jesus asked him for permission to call the wrath of God down to destroy some Samaritans who had treated them rudely, Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55).  If even apostles could go astray by wishing death for those who they saw as ungodly, how much more should we be careful?

In fact, the New Testament record of “imprecatory prayer” is much more negative.  Paul’s teaching is that we should pray for our leaders—and when he prayed this, he was not talking about Christians whose politics or theology he found objectionable; the leaders he prayed for were all pagans (Romans 13).  Jesus, too, prayed not for vengeance but for forgiveness for his enemies (Luke 23:34).  Most of the examples of such prayer are in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There are many examples of such prayer in the psalms, such as Psalm 109, the one that has recently received so much attention.  This is an excellent choice for a case study,  The first verses state how the psalmist has prayed for the good of the one who he now prays against.  This suggests that before Pastor Drake or Pastor Anderson prays for death for Obama, they should spend several years praying for his prosperity and full conversion; then, if Obama persecutes them and seeks their deaths, they can pray as the psalmist prayed:  not before.  Then come the verses 8-15, where the psalmist prays for the death of his accuser and persecutor.  And lastly comes the crux of the whole psalm, verse 16:  “For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted to their death.”  The psalmist is not praying for the death of a king who is seeking to force the rich to pay to feed the poor and provide them with health care; he is praying for the death of those rich who would not care for the poor.  O’Neal is quoting a prayer that would condemn himself and all other Republicans, if they would just read the entire psalm.  In verse 17, we read:  “He loved to curse; let curses come on him. He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.”  Who is it who loves to curse, if not the one who puts a curse on his bumper sticker or e-mail without once first praying for the health, prosperity and salvation of his or her would-be victim?

And why does the psalmist believe the LORD will answer this prayer?  In verses 21-22 we read:  “But you, O Lord my Lord, act on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.  For I am poor and needy, and my heart is pierced within me.”  Hear me, O Lord, for I am conservative and straight and believe life starts at conception even though such things as the biology of conception were not even known for thousands of years after Thou spakest unto us?  No.  Hear me, O Lord, for the moochers and the leeches are seeking to take my wealth and give it unto the poor and hungry, who will breed like stray cats if fed?  No.  Hear me, O Lord, for I am poor and needy!

The use of imprecatory prayer for political gain is a blasphemy.  It is a distortion of Scripture, pure and simple.  It is a violation of the spirit of Christ, which calls us to live in peace and to pray for peace, and “it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Sure, arousing the base emotions of hate, fear and self-righteousness is a great way to “rally the base” and gain political power; and praying for the death of your political opponents is a great way to do this.  It appeals to all that is dark and evil in the human heart, including the desire to think of oneself as pure and good instead of praying as the tax-gatherer prayed: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.  You get to arouse hate and fear and arrogant self-righteousness, while appealing to the religion of love and trust and humble repentance to justify yourself.  All in all, it’s a pretty good tactic for the short run.

Should Christians pray political prayers?  Sure, why not?  God gives us permission to pray for whatever is in our hearts.  “Thy will be done” is always the first prayer, though; if God lets a leader or a policy stand that we find odious, it is possible that God knows more than we do about what is good or evil.  But as we have seen, the Bible is full of prayers like Psalm 109, prayers for justice for the poor, freedom for captives, peace for the meek.  Should we pray for political leaders?  Yes, clearly.  Scripture says we should pray for their good, for their wisdom, and for justice.  Should we pray for their deaths?  No; or at best, probably not.  This is something that is dangerous to the soul of the one who does it.  If I believe President Obama has a bad tax plan, and I pray, “Oh Lord, help our President to act wisely and to treat all Americans justly, so that our land may be prosperous and those who labor may enjoy the fruits of their labors,” what harm is there in that?  My heart dwells only on what is good, without spite or arrogance.  But the other kind of prayer has little good to say for itself, and there is much to say against it.

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2 Responses to ““Faithful America” and a Faithful America”

  1. Michelle Young Says:

    Shame on you, especially pastors! We are told to forgive…and if we can’t forgive, then we can’t be forgiven. An explanation was provided. Opposing views were presented. To participate in an organized attempt to “punish” for not being able to forgive a lack of judgment when hitting forward is, well…I feel sorry for you and will pray that you learn to forgive so that you may be forgiven.

    • philosophicalscraps Says:

      First, thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment. I find your post a little confusing. Are you rebuking the people who pray that their political enemies should die, that their children should be fatherless and their spouses bereaved? They do, indeed, seem unable to forgive. Or are you rebuking the people who circulated and/or signed the petition? I don’t see an organized attempt to “punish;” the word is not used in the petition. If Speaker O’Neal would admit he blundered, this might blow over; defending the comment on the grounds that he didn’t read the whole psalm only aggravates the problem. What I want to call attention to, however, is not so much O’Neal’s act; what is more damaging is the fact that Christian leaders invoke God’s name and claim divine right to call curses and wish death on others. Some of these, from my brief research, are ignorant, self-appointed pastors lacking any theological training at all; they can’t read the Bible in the languages God gave it, or understand the historical context of the time it was given. Others, like Pat Robertson, should know better. However, it seems from a study of Psalm 109 that the current practice of imprecatory prayer, as it is being used by the Religious Right to further their political ends, is a distortion of Biblical practice to say the least. To say the most, it is a violation of the Gospel (Matt. 5:44; Romans 12:14). I understand why the writers of the petition felt “people of faith have a moral responsibility to condemn it.” O’Neal may be only a symptom rather than the real problem; but if the Southern Baptist Convention won’t condemn Pastor Drake and remove his church from the Convention (as they would if he were allowing women to the ordained ministry or something they really disapproved of), then the rest of us people of conscience need to speak out (Matt. 18:15-17, 1 Timothy 5:20).

      It is important that Christians remember that we all work for the same boss and there is only one true judge of the world. So it is a balancing act: avoid self-righteousness while avoiding the sin of keeping silence in the face of evil. TTFN

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