Friday, March 11, 2005

prayer in public life

More and more prayer in public life has become ‘sanitized.’ Our society has become increasingly pluralistic and in line with that and the desire of our leaders to hold to the great Canadian value-- tolerance (in appearance at least), public prayers in Canada have become pretty generic. Prayers are still offered at public functions like the openings of parliament and the legislature, public memorial services, Remembrance Day ceremonies etc. But could it be they are more of a generic sop to the religious than a genuine attempt to communicate with deity?

Here, however, is a public prayer that was not like that. In 1996 Rev. Joe Wright of Wichita Kansas was asked to offer the opening prayer at the Kansas House of Representatives. Here is the text of his prayer:

Heavenly Father, we come before you to ask your forgiveness. We seek your direction and your guidance. We know your word says, "Woe to those who call evil good." But that's what we've done.

We've lost our spiritual equilibrium. We have inverted our values. We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of moral pluralism. We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We've exploited the poor and called it a lottery.

We've neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

In the name of choice, we have killed our unborn. In the name of right to life, we have killed abortionists.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it taxes.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, oh, God, and know our hearts today. Try us. Show us any wickedness within us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of the State of Kansas, and that they have been ordained by you to govern this great state.

Grant them your wisdom to rule. May their decisions direct us to the center of your will. And, as we continue our prayer and as we come in out of the fog, give us clear minds to accomplish our goals as we begin this Legislature. For we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

The prayer wasn’t original with him but was a version of a prayer written by Bob Russell who offered it at the Kentucky Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Frankfort Kentucky in 1995.

There was fallout with hot rhetoric on both sides.

Later columnist Terry Mattingly explained it this way:

The easy answer is that he read a prayer about sin. The complicated answer is that Wright jumped into America’s tense debate about whether some things are always right and some things are always wrong.

Some people get upset when politics intrude into religion; other are irritated when religion intrudes into politics. As in war, the ‘intruder’ is always the guy on the other side."

(A version of this prayer has been circulating as an email. I've checked out the story here.)


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