Tuesday, April 30, 2013

National Day of Prayer Misunderstands both Nation and Prayer

I've been getting email encouraging me to support local National Day of Prayer events two days from now.


Don't get me wrong. I believe deeply in the power of prayer to transform lives. I pray for our nation that it will protect the weak, serve the poor, promote justice and peace not through strength but mercy, and that all people will be recognized and honored with dignity and grace.

I pray for our nation for all I'm worth.

But I chafe at the government telling me I should pray.

National Day of Prayer has become nothing less than a religious-right attempt to eliminate true freedom of religion in the United States. It threatens the religious liberty that is at the heart of the First Amendment. And it does so as a wolf in sheep's clothing—by claiming that it is promoting religious liberty.

Who gave Congress permission to mandate that the President declare a day when Americans should pray? What part of "make no law respecting an establishment of religion" do we not understand?

Go to the website of the National Day of Prayer and you'll find a specific prayer the organizing committee, chaired by Shirley Dobson, is pushing on local observers nation-wide. It is written by an evangelical megachurch pastor, and it prays in specifically Christian terms and forms, even though Jesus is not mentioned by name.

Worse, it promotes the false idea that our nation has removed "Your Word" (by which the author of the prayer appears to mean the Bible, even though the Christian gospels consider Jesus to be God's Word) from our classrooms, courtrooms, and culture. As if it were government's role to promote religion! Then it calls on God to bring a spiritual revival that will turn the country once again back to God and thus heal our land.

I'm all for revival and healing, but I don't accept the vision Dobson and her crew promote. I do not begrudge anyone the right to pray as they see fit. I'll defend their right to the grave. But I also refuse to be complicit or silent when our nation sacrifices the very freedom on which we were founded to promote a narrow, misleading, sectarianism of any sort, mine or anyone else's.

We're a better country than this. And as Christians, we should be grateful for and not ashamed of the secular structure of government our founders envisioned. It's that very neutrality in matters of religion that guarantees our freedom to pray or not, as we choose.

I'm proud of the God and Country award I earned as a Boy Scout. I'm also passionate about preserving the freedom of those whose religion is different from mine as well as of those who profess no religion at all.

We Christians don't need a National Day of Prayer to work together for the people Jesus called us to serve: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the disabled, and the oppressed. We need a government that protects religion without promoting it, ensuring all of us the freedom to pray or not as we please.

National Day of Prayer misunderstands who we are as a nation. It also misunderstands the source and power of genuine uncoerced prayer.

Pray for our nation if you like on Thursday. I will. But don't do it because Congress passed a law requiring the President to tell you to do it. Pray because prayer is something you are already doing. Pray not because you must but, if you so choose, because you can.

Blessings and Peace.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A day in the life (or at least a morning)

5:00 a.m. Alarm. Calendar check. Big day ahead. Gotta get Katy to the airport and Jackson to school in time to finish homework, then arrange lawn care and landscaping for the house nobody has bought from us in Lynchburg, and get myself to the Capitol in St. Paul. The Marriage Equality Lobby Day and Rally is today. Must remember my stole.

6:00 a.m. Morning rush was compressed. Fast showers, lunch made, school things gathered, coffee poured, weather checked. We're nearly ready to get out the door. Last minute didjas (didja take your allergy meds, didja get money for dinner, didja...) done. C'mon! Let's go!

7:00 a.m. Both drop-offs went cleanly. Airport, school. Checking in now on Foursquare at Dunn Brothers Coffee. Time for another calendar check. Then a moment to explain.

Here we are, nearly 24 years into our marriage, with fifteen years of parenting and several moves under our belts. Each day we three depend on each other. It's like a dance where we've learned the steps by doing them, stepped on each other's toes more than once, and once in a while stepped back to listen to the rhythm of it all. It's what families do.

By now, Katy's settling in at the gate waiting on her plane to board, Jackson's in the school library printing out his homework, and I'm taking a few minutes to collect myself. Each of us is launching into the day. And the foundation of it all is the mad rush of the family dance.

There are some things we count on as we navigate the next steps:

  • each other's trust and unconditional love
  • the support of our wider family
  • gainful employment
  • a loving, safe, Open and Affirming church
There are other things, of course: breathable air, clean water, healthy food, stable government, good schools... We don't take any of these for granted.

But the thing that holds together the dance, that gives our steps purpose and meaning, is the church. As Open and Affirming, the church is the community that shares with glbtq families as it does with allies like us the good news that, no matter what, we are loved and accepted. For all its faults, the church is where we hear the story that God loves us, treasures our good relationships, encourages in our own busyness and in our ministry with others. It's where we know people will be there for us, and we'll be there for them.

We usually take this for granted, as much as any pastor's family can. But many families cannot.

That's really what being Open and Affirming is all about. Not just tolerating each other's existence or grudgingly acknowledging someone else's rights. It's about standing up for each other because Christ stands up for us. Honoring each other's journey. Resolute in faith and trust. Vulnerable yet strong. And in all things, all things: Love.

When the dance spins wildly and the day seems out of control (here comes Katy's text: flight delayed, ugh), we know we're part of something larger than ourselves. We need to know this, deep in our bones. It's become unfathomable to me how any church can still deny that every family, every individual belongs.

8:00 a.m. Still, there's work to do. It's time to call Virginia Garden Supply for bedding plants before the next open house back in Lynchburg this weekend. Then I'm off to the Capitol in St. Paul to stand with other clergy in support of a marriage equality bill moving through the legislature.

It's good to know Spirit of Joy doesn't just tolerate what I do but sees my advocacy as part of its ministry. Our family depends on such love and trust. We're grateful to be part of it. After all, it's what Open and Affirming churches do.