Honesty, Not a Gay Pastor’s Prayer, Tested in OK

It’s not prayer, public or otherwise, that divides us. At least it doesn’t have to. It’s our inability to be … Continued

It’s not prayer, public or otherwise, that divides us. At least it doesn’t have to. It’s our inability to be honest with each other about what we really believe and how to make room for the beliefs of others. Without that ability, we will keep beating the drums of the culture war, as we are right now over the case of a gay pastor’s prayer and the response to it. That’s the real fallout from Rev. Scott H. Jones’s offering an opening prayer for the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the subsequent vote over whether or not to enter his prayer into the official record of that session.

Once again a sensitive issue is being used to rally the faithful, divide us more sharply, and give everyone a place to hide from the truth. Sadly, that is how we handle most issues of religion in American public life, especially when it comes to prayer. While I may side more with the appropriateness of his being asked to offer the prayer, and with it having been entered into the record, nobody in this story behaved a s well as they might have. And for that, all of us living in this country, regardless of our position on this issue, pay the price.

Let’s start with Rev. Jones. Did he really need to publicly acknowledge his partner?

The fact that many of us think he should be able to do so does not mean that he should have — at least not without seriously asking how it would impact those in the chamber who were already being stretched by the presence of a gay pastor offering the prayer. In the end, Rev. Jones failed by virtue of asking those he was leading to be where he already was, instead of reaching them where they were and helping them to get a little closer.

The same can be said for Rep. Al McAffrey, Oklahoma’s only openly gay legislator, the man who invited Jones to pray and who made the motion to enter the prayer in the record. Why this one and why now? He wanted to prove a point. And however good the point may be, that is precisely how faith should not be used. Healthy faith puts people ahead of ideas. And by forcing this issue, Mr. McAffrey did the reverse. Of course, he was not alone.

Rep. John Wright objected to entering Rev. Jones prayer, leading to a vote which concluded with a 64-20-17 decision in favor of the prayer. The fact that they voted is not a bad thing. In fact, that’s the best part of the story. The idea that people are willing to hear a prayer even if they are personally opposed to either it or the one who offers it, is a triumph for the genuinely pluralistic use of religion in a public institution.

But why did Rep. Wright object this time? He said it was because of his faith, which initially seems like a reasonable answer. But it’s hard to believe. I highly doubt that every previous prayer offered before the Oklahoma legislature falls in line with every detail of Mr. Wright’s theological views.

How is he with Catholics? What about Jews and Muslims who do not believe that Jesus is the messiah? Have they offered prayers? Did Rep. Wright object to those prayers being entered into the record? If not, his objection based on “faith” reduces his entire religious identity to objecting to the presence of gay people’s prayers in the legislature record — hardly a position of which to be proud, no matter what one believes about gayness and Christian teaching.

Imagine if instead of simply objecting, Wright had risen and said that he was feeling vulnerable, having been pushed as far as he could go. Imagine if Rep. McAffrey had not asked that the prayer be entered into the record but thanked his colleagues for achieving a new level of inclusivity. Imagine if Rev. Jones had acknowledged not his partner, but the fact that not all could be acknowledged at this time and prayed that even greater inclusivity would one day be achieved. Imagine if all of us could be that honest with each other about the issues which divide us.

The issue here is not really who prays, or what they pray, or if we should have prayer at all. The issue is how any leader, or any audience member for that matter, standing as part of any assembled public body, considers the needs of those who do not share their beliefs as carefully as those who do.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • ivri5768

    First of all, given that this was not Sunday at Church, I can’t understand what a reverend straight, gay, or bisexual, was doing “offering” a prayer.However, as long as he was praying as it were I see no reason why he shouldn’t acknowledge his partner. Seeing gay issues relegated to the “culture war” arena has become tiresome. They belong in the human rights, rights of citizenship domain, and those bigots who want to keep them out had better get used to the idea of losing.

  • tbarksdl

    I’m a little confused on the exact issue here and on what Mr. Hirschfield is saying about it. So, for the record in a generic sense, I do not want someone using public prayer to ram gay propaganda in my face anymore than I want someone using public prayer to ram “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” in my face.But more importantly: Why do reputed Christians continue to violate Jesus’ explicit repudiation of public prayer? That’s found in Matthew 6:5–6, where Jesus says: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” This willful betrayal of Jesus’ admonition by clerics and average Americans–like legislators–is shocking. I believe we are paying a price for it. I believe that God sent us this economic crisis to punish us for all that public praying. We must repent, or we are doomed. I urge reverends, priests, bishops, pastors, preachers, rabbis, etc., to call immediately for a cessation of all public praying. Let’s make next Sunday “Prayer Free” day in our churches and go from there. Turn aside from those misleading voices who try to tell you that Jesus is primarily concerned about abortion, gay marriage, and teaching evolution–matters that any cursory reading of the Bible shows you that Jesus had nothing to say about. Public praying–the thing he did explicitly condemn–that’s the problem. That’s what’s got us in trouble. Repent, or we’ll never see a DOW 10,000 ever again.

  • arosscpa

    tbarksdl,I cannot tell if you are facetious or ignorant, but the passage you cite refers to hypocrisy, not praying in public. Though you scarcely could have had a way to learn this, in a few verses after those you cite, Jesus gives the formula for all prayer, public and private: the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer.If you were my student I might assign you to go through the entire New Testament, noting each instance of public prayer. You could start with any Synoptic story of Jesus feeding the crowds or the healing stories, move on to John 17, and then open to the Acts of the Apostles, and just start picking pages at random. And don’t forget the Canticle of Zechariah, the Canticle of Mary, the Canticle of Simeon (all Luke 1-2) and those 150 psalms which were and are continually recited daily by Jews and Christian alike.Please see the contemporaneous blog on “Considering the Source.”

  • MGT2

    Is it just me, or is the current spiritual state of the Church reminiscent of the spiritual state of Israel in the Book of Judges? Then, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Of course, you know that they were actually not right, and I think it is the same today. So the Psalmist says that because God’s judgement does not come speedily, people are set in their hearts and ways to do the wrong things.

  • Freestinker

    RE: “public prayer”arosscpa and tbarksdl,But we’re not talking about ordinary “public prayer” here, we’re talking about government-sponsored prayer that just happens to be in public. The problem isn’t praying in public, the problem is government-sponsored prayer. The main reason this prayer/pray-er was controversial was because it happened in the seat of government on government time (and the taxpayers dime). At least the OKL legislators got a taste of what it feels like to have an objectionable religious opinion preached to you with implicit endorsement by the government on government time and in their workplace. The irony is that these kind of controveries are easily avoided simply by honoring the Constitution and keeping government and religion completely separated. I wonder what Jesus may have said about mixing government and religion? Would Jesus have accepted an invitation to preach in the Roman Senate?

  • tom_k47

    Did the prayer honor a Holy God? Hardly. The prayer was purposely divisive from the beginning in putting man’s desires ahead of God’s instruction and teaching.

  • MGT2

    TOM_K47I agree with you. This is more about what men want, God’s instructions be ……! And we wonder why there is confusion and moral decline.

  • Catken1

    Oh. My. He actually had the gall to _acknowledge the loving partner God gave him_, and to express gratitude for that gift. How AWFUL.Rep. Wright had better never thank, be photographed with, nor express gratitude for his wife in public prayer. I don’t want his sexuality shoved in my face, after all. Or is it only gay relationships and love that are supposed to be hidden in shame lest someone be “uncomfortable?” Rabbi, what if you were told not to wear your yarmulke in a public place, or to use the title of “Rabbi” publicly, because anti-Semites might be “uncomfortable” with your Jewish identity? Would you be wrong for asserting yourself and your faith despite other’s discomfort? Public prayer is always going to exclude someone, or make someone uncomfortable. I’m sure prayers that have made Rep. Wright feel good and comfortable with himself have made others feel uncomfortable or excluded. They stood by and let Rep. Wright have his prayers, out of civility and courtesy. He can certainly be asked to do the same with prayers he finds disturbing but others find bring them closer to their God, as those others have done for him. Why is courtesy asked of those of us who find taxpayer-funded assertion of fundamentalist beliefs offensive, but not of those who find the simple existence of gay people offensive?Or else maybe we should get rid of taxpayer-supported public prayer in the first place, and let everyone pray privately and silently as they see fit. (Or privately and loudly, but in their own home or church space.) That, it seems to me, is by far the better solution.

  • Alex511

    fr tom_k47:>Did the prayer honor a Holy God? Hardly. The prayer was purposely divisive from the beginning in putting man’s desires ahead of God’s instruction and teaching.It was NOT “purposely divisive” from beginning to the Amen. He was giving thanks for his partner/fiancee, his parents, etc. The one who is causing the flap is the Rep. Wright, who has the freedom to LEAVE THE ROOM if someone HE doesn’t “approve of” leads the prayer. Nobody was holding wright hostage. He sounds like a very sore loser, who is serious need of growing UP.

  • Freestinker

    Tom_K47,Although it’s largely irrelevant, I am still curious … What part of Rev Jones’ prayer did you find so “divisive”?

  • Freestinker

    Alex511,Nobody in the State legislature or any other government office should ever feel compelled to “leave the room” in order to avoid being proselytised in their official government workplace.It’s ironic that you would suggest those who object to this particular government endorsement of religion “leave the room” because the shoe is usually on the other foot but it’s wrong in either case. Government-sponsored prayers in the workplace are always wrong and are completely unecessary in the first place.

  • financepirate

    Oh, the poor bigoted “Christian”, who was so put upon by the gay preacher who expressed his love for his partner to “make a point”. Woe is him.Puhlease. Suck it up, bigot. Until you understand that expressing love for a partner isn’t “making a point”, it’s – wait for it – expressing love for a partner, then you will not have achieved the level of human. You are still a thoughtless animal. Offended? Too bad. Your kind are poison and the sooner your ilk die off, the better off the rest of us will be. Go sulk in a corner, shut up and stay away from humanity.

  • ivri5768

    First of all, given that this was not Sunday at Church, I can’t understand what a reverend straight, gay, or bisexual, was doing “offering” a prayer.However, as long as he was praying as it were I see no reason why he shouldn’t acknowledge his partner. Seeing gay issues relegated to the “culture war” arena has become tiresome. They belong in the human rights, rights of citizenship domain, and those bigots who want to keep them out had better get used to the idea of losing.

  • coloradodog

    The small and shallow Abrahamic god not only forbids gays but their prayers as well. His small and shallow followers use him for hatred and exclusion as well.

  • CCNL

    Let gay-related prayers should recognize gay sexual behavior for what it is. Some observations:The general population to include many of the voters in California, rightly or wrongly, find gay sexual activities, married or not, to be “yucky” and unusual and typically associate such activity with the spread of AIDS which is of course wrong. Said AIDS epidemic in the gay male community at the start of the AIDS crises will always remain unfortunately a stigma on the gay community.And after all of this rhetoric, gay “marriages” simply simplify and somewhat sanitize what are still “yucky” acts caused by a variant gene(s) and/or hormone imbalance. One wonders if stem cell research will find a cure?? Hmmm, would the embryos formed from the sperm of gay guys and the eggs from gay gals make more ethical embryos for this and other types of research?? There are impressive lists of gay people who did not let their yucky defect get in the way of being a contribution to society. Unfortunately, they were not able to contribute to the evolutionary process of DNA improvement via procreation. And one will never know whether they would have achieved even greater achievements without said defect.From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay sexual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex sexual defects. Some defects are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O’Donnell. Of course not all having these abnormal tendencies, show it outwardly as alluded to in the following synopsis:From Wikipedia:

  • tbarksdl

    AROSSCPA,Your brain must be hurting from the mental contortions you have to go through to conclude that “the passage you cite refers to hypocrisy, not praying in public.” Let me repeat them, with emphasis added: “And when you pray, you must NOT be like the hypocrite…(who)…pray in the synagogues and at the street corners…But thou, when thou prayest, ENTER INTO THY CLOSET, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father…”Jesus is clearly equating those who make a spectacle of public praying with hypocrites. He goes on in a declarative phrase to give explicit instructions on how to actually pray–i.e., in private. It’s always amazing to see people like you, who believe they follow the Bible, go into overdrive with specious reasoning and willful distortions of something the Bible actually says, but you just don’t want to hear. Cafeteria Christians picking and choosing what parts of the Bible represent the true path are bad enough. Willful distortion and misrepresentation of explicit instructions is worse. Willful distortion and misrepresentation of the explicit words of Jesus puts your immortal soul in danger. I can only hope that whatever students you might have are able to see through your flim-flam. One thing this world does not need are more false prophets–like Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, pedophile priests, and Holocaust deniers, to name just a few of the most recent.

  • FSGinger

    The rabbi seems to believe that only inviting white, Christian, straight males is NOT making a political statement, while somebody asking a gay minister from his district to give a prayer IS making a political statement. This, for the record (pun intended), is a sign of privilege. It is easy to sit back from a secure place of knowing that your kind is more likely to be invited and say “well, I can see ‘both sides’ and think maybe he shouldn’t have done that at this time,” pretending to be a wise middle ground. It is far more difficult to ask of oneself “how is my positioning in this world clouding my view, and how might my desire to maintain the status quo and be seen as ‘reasonable’ and ‘moderate’ be leading me to perpetuate the oppression of a minority?” Stop, rabbi, and think about the implications of your statements here. You imply that inviting a minority person to give a prayer is “political” but NOT inviting one is “neutral.” There is NO NEUTRAL. By not inviting certain people (women, gays, people of color, non-Christians) you make a statement. The only difference is that the statement goes unnoticed because it maintains the current status quo of whose voices are heard.

  • FSGinger

    People (including this writer) should also be made aware that others who give prayers in the House mention those who have joined them (family, friends, congregants). This was not somebody grandstanding, but simply somebody living his life. Again, if you think it is “making a unnecessary statement” for a gay person to do this but NOT making a statement when House members are affirmed that their worldview is everybody’s because only straight, white, male Christians do this, your bias is showing.

  • CCNL

    Let gay-related prayers should recognize gay sexual behavior for what it is. Some observations:The general population to include many of the voters in California, rightly or wrongly, find gay sexual activities, married or not, to be “yucky” and unusual and typically associate such activity with the spread of AIDS which is of course wrong. Said AIDS epidemic in the gay male community at the start of the AIDS crises will always remain unfortunately a stigma on the gay community.And after all of this rhetoric, gay “marriages” simply simplify and somewhat sanitize what are still “yucky” acts caused by a variant gene(s) and/or hormone imbalance. One wonders if stem cell research will find a cure?? Hmmm, would the embryos formed from the sperm of gay guys and the eggs from gay gals make more ethical embryos for this and other types of research?? There are impressive lists of gay people who did not let their yucky defect get in the way of being a contribution to society. Unfortunately, they were not able to contribute to the evolutionary process of DNA improvement via procreation. And one will never know whether they would have achieved even greater achievements without said defect.From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay sexual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex sexual defects. Some defects are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O’Donnell. Of course not all having these abnormal tendencies, show it outwardly as alluded to in the following synopsis:From Wikipedia: