church and state

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two prayers of the people

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Well, we made it to our new home in Virginia. We went from living in a city of 1 million, bordered by other cities of millions to a small town of only 225. My wife and I together increased the population by nearly a percentage point! There are many cultural differences, once of which I want to focus on in this post.

There is one part of the Sunday liturgy called “Prayers of the People.” Protestants may refer to it as “Prayer Concerns” or the “Pastoral Prayer.” At the Catholic Church a reader announces what we are praying for and the congregation responds with “Lord, hear our prayer,” or some other response. For example we pray for the end of the drought – Lord hear our prayer.

Nearly every Sunday where-ever we are worshiping, there is always a prayer concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in Pasadena, CA the prayer went something like this:

“We pray for the men and women who are deployed overseas and our also for our enemies. We pray for a just and lasting peace to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And at the small town Catholic church (yes, they exist!): “We ask that you protect our soldiers who are fighting for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did I mention this church posted an American flag in front of the sanctuary?

jesususa

(Thanks to Craig Watts and Disciples World for the image idea. Read his related article here.)

Quite a difference. When I heard the new, small town prayer I was a bit taken back. What a self-serving, closed minded way to pray for soldiers. Of course it is a valid war if we are fighting for our freedom after all, and we should certainly beat the crap out of the enemy because they are against our freedom. There is no vision for peace with this mindset, just fight till the battle is won.

The first prayer shows awareness of Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies. I like it especially for the phrase “a lasting and just peace.” It is a prayer primarily for peace, but it exhibits a recognition that peace can be unjust. For example if an enemy is wiped off the face of the earth or harshly treated following the conflict; that is not a just peace.

So I encourage you to be discerning when writing Prayers of the People or saying the Pastoral Prayer. What are you really asking for?


Don’t Protest Marriage

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

ringsThe recent, and expected, decision by the California supreme court to uphold proposition 8 has intensified the gay marriage debate over the last few days. Scenes are reminiscent of civil-rights era protests, and just like in those days, pastors are joining in.

Not far from where I live, Rev. Art Cribbs has announced that “he will not perform any more wedding ceremonies in California until the state’s same-sex marriage ban is overturned.” The article goes on to say that Rev. Art believes prop 8 crosses a boundary between church and state. [source]

Pasadena Star News has a more in depth story with an extensive comment thread here.

Let me begin by saying this protest is ridiculous. But, sadly it is not unique. Fox News (I know, I know…and I apologize in advance but I couldn’t find anyone else covering this story, and they have a video segment) interviews Rev. Susan Parker in Winston-Salem NC on her refusal to sign marriage licenses until same-sex marriage is legal in her state. [source]

Her protest waffles a bit though: She will still “bless” marriages, but she will send the happy couple to the courthouse to have the license signed. There are plenty more examples of similar protests and I encourage you to add relevant links in the comments.

Back to the insanity…

Pastors: Why will you withhold a grace from your parishioners because something the state is doing? You are only punishing the people in your flock. Your impact will be very limited in society at large, but the impact will be profound on your local church community.

I thought protests were supposed to be active? If you believe gay-marriage is valid, then a more effective protest would be to start performing gay-marriages within the church – in mind of the state’s disapproval. That’s a real protest.

The secular world doesn’t understand marriage anyway (even between a man and a woman), maybe they never will. You are basically saying “I will refuse to administer the sacraments of the church until those outside the church understand them the way I do.” Or worse yet: “I will withhold grace to an even greater degree than it is already being withheld until x,y, or z goal of social justice is met.” You are only adding to the confusion and misunderstanding of marriage in our day.

This protest only emphasizes the legal aspect of marriage and steals from the sacramental/covenant aspect of marriage. You will not perform marriages until contract law is more fair? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Imagine if pastors refused to perform baptisms until drinking fountains are installed at the local park. Or if they refused to celebrate Eucharist until wheat farmers earned a better wage. This is just as ridiculous. The church ought to celebrate God’s graces despite all the injustices in the world.

You can’t let politics thwart the Church’s actions in the world. Render unto Caesar whats Caesars, but render unto God what is God’s.

Do not profane the sacraments of the church for the sake of the state.