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Legislative Invocations- Another Whiff For The Dispatch

Prayer RequestIn an editorial in the Columbus Dispatch on Friday October 12, 2007, the editorial writers reveal a glaring double standard in dealing with questions of religious expression vs. any other expression. The sub-headline for the article speaks volumes “Keeping invocations at Statehouse proper ought to be easy (emphasis added).” Just what does “proper” mean? According to the Dispatch editorial writer it means free of any meaningful pleadings to the Almighty.

According to the Dispatch

Conducting prayers before legislative sessions just shouldn’t be this difficult. The Ohio House of Representatives’ guidelines are clear: The prayers should be nondenominational, nonsectarian and noncontroversial, avoiding political issues that are facing the lawmakers.

Pastor’s shouldn’t ask for the intervention of God to guide legislators in dealing with complex issues before them? Then what’s the point of prayer at all? At the risk of alienating first amendment ambulance chasers like Jay Sekulow, who say absurd things about the “establishment clause” proving that the founders of the United States promoted and practiced “ceremonial deism,” we would point to Benjamin Franklin’s call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention in May 1787 as a model for what pastors should pray for.

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service– .

Does this sound “nondenominational, nonsectarian and noncontroversial, avoiding political issues that are facing the lawmakers?” And this plea for meaningful prayer comes not from a bi-vocational pastor or a “wild-eyed religious fanatic,” but arguably one of the least devout members of the Constitutional Convention. It contains two biblical references; Psalm 127:1 and Matthew 10:29.

What the Dispatch is calling for, in fact, is censorship. And they say so in so many words. We triple-dog dare anyone to suggest that some books with explicit scenes of debauchery should not be made available to kindergarteners at local or school libraries. Any person making such a suggestion would face the editorial long knives of the Dispatch editorial board who would scream at the top of their voices (or type at the top of their wordprocessors?) about “censorship” and proclaim it un-American. Only in the case of clergy offering public prayers is censorship proper by the standards of the Columbus Dispatch.

In order to bolster its weak case for continued censorship of prayer, the Dispatch continues to misreport the circumstances which ignited the current controversy. They have repeatedly claimed that “…a Lima-based minister made multiple references to Jesus Christ, spoke in favor of church-sponsored schools and mentioned the state regulation of strip clubs, an issue before the General Assembly.” Not really. The pastor invoked the name of Jesus Christ (as have several other pastors, in violation of the awful policy), asked for protection of the right of freedom of thought and religion and gave thanks for the right to continue to have church operated schools and asked for God’s guidance to the legislators on similar issues including the issue of regulation of adult oriented business. He did not “speak in favor of church-sponsored schools” as the Dispatch alleges. You can hear the prayer in question here. Not exactly as advertised, is it?

The Dispatch writer waxes eloquent about clergy practicing “wisdom” and “common sense” in delivering invocations. Though the editorial writer couches it in terms of enlightenment rationalism, what he is really demanding is that Christian pastors who understand the biblical definition of folly- that “…the fool says in his heart that there is no God…”- get to the back of the bus, sit down and shut up. In other words, Christians who actually believe that God exists and that His Son Jesus Christ is King and Lord of all including government and public policy are second-class citizens whose silly beliefs make them, if not irrelevant, dangerous. In this latter point we agree. Christians who understand that Christ is truly Lord of all are dangerous, at least to those who approach public policy with a reliance on man-centered humanistic rationalism, devoid of reliance on God’s authority or any absolutes. We think the first chapter of the book of Romans explains the situation quite well-

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:20-22 NASB)

Frankly, any Christian pastor who would deliver a Christless invocation, which is a plea for guidance and blessing from the Father for legislators, in order to please the powers that be is at least guilty of hiding the Light of Christ under a jar (Luke 8:16). Christ did not speak favorably of this and, in fact, says that His Light is impossible to hide permanently.

We would be the first to condemn any kind of denominational or sectarian imprecatory rants on the floor of the Ohio Legislature. Calling on Christ to intercede with the Father for guidance and wisdom for elected representatives on both general and specific issues, as Christians are taught to do in the Bible, is clearly not in this class. The Dispatch needs to back off and so does Speaker Husted.

Posted in Commentary, Public Policy Principles News.