Prayer - Social, Political...or Spiritual?

On the Web site of the Kentucky Council of Churches is a commentary prepared by the KCC executive director, the Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Kemper, and her note that it has been sent to the Lexington Herald-Leader, a part of the Knight-Ridder chain, for possible publication. It begins thus: “In recent years the Governor's Annual Prayer Breakfast has become a political minefield that must surely leave governors scratching their heads about how to ‘do it right’.” This sets the tone for the article – a prayer breakfast as a “minefield” – and makes one wonder if the Rev. Dr. Kemper has decided to join the newspaper in the hatchet job the H-L has already carried out rather sanguinarily on the governor’s prayer breakfast. The paper had already ridiculed/crucified Lexington’s Southland Christian Church in December for not having services on Christmas Day, though technically it did, giving front-page treatment and extensive coverage to that matter, just it has in this case, with editorial ridicule thrown in for good measure. Obviously, the lady is upset about Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher’s prayer breakfast, held a few days ago.

The Rev. Dr. Kemper may be a bit miffed. She has this to say in her essay: “During the Patton administration I was no longer asked to be on the planning committee, probably to the great relief of some of the other members of the committee.” Now, what is that supposed to mean? She explains that the last time the prayer breakfast “managed a modicum of inclusivity” was during the Brereton Jones administration (1991-95)…so had it been determined then that Kemper was more interested in inclusivity than in prayer, the actual purpose of the exercise? Or, should one conclude that Kemper was a thorn in the flesh, as Paul the Apostle might have it, and the powers that were/be should not be bloodied by same?

Ironically and to the paper’s credit, in the H-L of Feb. 13 on the Op-Ed page, Dale S. Ditto of the Christian Businessmen’s Club of the Bluegrass, organizer of the event, explained the actual facts of the matter, the most important of which was that the invitation to the breakfast was universal and that all state legislators and employees had been invited. Legislators read from the Torah (Jewish scripture) and the New Testament (Jewish-Christian scripture), and the paper had already noted that no clergy had a part in the affair, the homily for which was delivered by Pat Day, a legendary and recently retired jockey who has made his faith well known.

Kemper seems most distressed that the effort was Christian, strange since that probably is the way she would classify herself, although, of course, when inclusivity is the prime consideration one might wonder. Obviously, the breakfast was not a civic event, but a religious one, and the Christian context celebrates both the Jewish and Christian concepts, since Christianity evolved from Judaism. Christian and Jew both pray to the same God, so the affair was actually Judeo-Christian. There would be little expectation that prayers would be made to Allah, not the Judeo-Christian deity but the object of worship in a religion (Islam) established by Mohammed some six centuries after the time of Christ. The fact that he hijacked the Jewish Abraham for his purposes, probably to give Islam some validity, does not give Islam that validity. This is especially noticeable now, when, in the name of Allah, Muslims are butchering defenseless people all over the world, even, or especially, their own.

Fletcher is an ordained minister. Besides that, he is a medical doctor, former USAF fighter pilot, former state legislator, and a former U.S. congressman. About the prayer activity, he was quoted recently as saying, "I certainly have utmost respect for different faiths. But I think most people knew when they were voting for me they were voting for somebody who held the Christian faith, and I'm not going to be somebody different than who I am." The governor had no political agenda in mind for the breakfast; he was earnest in his effort to make the affair a time of prayer to God, who is identified on all federal monies, in the Supreme Court building, and remarked in the Declaration of Independence, i.e., the Judeo-Christian God.

This event was for individuals, not for organizations. According to the Herald-Leader, Kemper complained in 2001 during the previous administration for its not inviting her organization and had the gall to accuse that administration of being insensitive to Jews and Muslims because the breakfast menu included pork. Imagine that! No bacon and sausage, the breakfast musts in Kentucky! Why didn’t she include steak, in case some Hindus, to whom the cow is sacred, might be in attendance? Actually, coffee and tea would be out, since Mormons don’t touch either. What does that leave – doughnuts and orange juice? Eggs probably wouldn’t make muster, either, since they might be fried in animal fat. Good grief! Actually, kosher food was available at the breakfast, and no one was required to eat anything.

No…Kemper’s is the rant of someone to whom political correctness currently is god; however, political correctness does not equate to prayer correctness. Kemper says this in her essay: “We have always had a vibrant Jewish presence in our state; and in recent years, we have an increasing population of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, Unitarians, Sikhs, Jains and other religious adherents. These persons add rich threads to the tapestry of our shared life together in the Commonwealth.” There’s no argument with that, but it has nothing to do with a spiritual exercise shared by people who pray to and worship God, whom adherents of some or all the sects mentioned above do not recognize as God of the creation and the object of prayer. The prayer breakfast was not a love-in for folks to get together and fellowship; it was a time of worship and prayer, nothing more and nothing less.

Kemper had this to say: “Moreover, we need to understand that not all religions practice prayer, per se. Some have other practices such as meditation or chant. Each could share their methods. Music might be offered from a variety of these religions. And food could also be an opportunity to learn more about those who are different from the Christian majority.” Obviously, the event had to do with prayer, but Kemper is interested in engaging folks who don’t pray but need to somehow expose everyone to their culture. This is the stuff for a social gathering, not a prayer meeting. Can one imagine what it would sound like in a breakfast gathering where all the participants engaged in humming a mantra? Or how would it be for everyone to assume a meditative position of some kind and stare at the wall…or perhaps at their navels. How would it be to try eating anything with chop-sticks…not to disparage that method of eating, but how many redneck Kentuckians can eat anything, especially slippery rice, with chop-sticks…or a fried egg over light? This was a prayer meeting, not a diversity-training class. There is a time and place for that. And, this most certainly is not to disparage anyone’s culture.

Kemper is way off base on this one, and she might try understanding how most folks approach their belief as a personal thing that is sometimes shared with others of like mind in a collective effort to accomplish something transcendental, not an exercise in advancing diversity, multiculturalism, or political correctness, all things of this world, but having nothing to do with an approach to God, except as such approach might be answered by God as eventuating in an individual supplicant’s living on a higher plane. That’s what prayer is all about.