Hey, there’s a nice minefield. I think I’ll stroll right in.
A couple of weeks back, there was a rally at the Statehouse in favor of pro-choice. The rally started with a prayer. Two Democratic candidates for governor, state Reps. Jack Hatch of Des Moines and Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids, were among those who stood with heads bowed.
During the 4:39 prayer, Des Moines activist Midge Slater gives thanks to God several times for access to safe, legal abortions and “quality abortion care,” prays for the safety of doctors who perform abortions and asks that public officials support a woman’s right to make personal medical decisions, including having an abortion, gaining access to birth control, heath care, etc.
A video of the prayer hit the interwebs. Soon, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker issued a lengthy statement blasting it:
“Praying to God and thanking Him for abortions, and then asking for his guidance to provide more abortions, is one of the most atrocious things I’ve ever heard of. And even more outrageous is that this “prayer” took place in the Iowa Capitol building. While there are different points of view on this issue, it’s tremendously difficult to think God would agree with the dismembering of babies, much less he would offer his blessings upon those who prayed for more abortions. I’ve seen no statements from Tyler Olson or Jack Hatch stating their disapproval for this horrific and ill-timed prayer. If this is what Olsen and Hatch think will help them in their race to defeat Terry Branstad in 2014, then it shows just how unbelievably out of touch they are with everyday Iowans and how poorly they’re going to perform come election time. Holding a rally where the organizers pray to God asking Him to allow more abortions? That’s just sick, twisted and disgusting. There’s no other way to put it.”
ROLE OF PRAYER
On one level, this is the brand of abortion politics we’ve all witnessed for decades. A prominent Republican slapping a “godless abortionist” label on pro-choice Democrats is not exactly breaking news. I think it’s in the GOP chairman’s job description.
Hatch and Olson sidestepped the criticism, while reaffirming their pro-choice position, as any Democrat would if they hope to win their party’s primary.
For Spiker, it also was a great chance to stack up a nice pile of rousing red meat adjectives with hopes that Republicans might forget, for a day or two, how he’s run the state party into the ditch. There’s no other way to put it, as someone once put it.
But to me, the most intriguing aspect of this is role of prayer in public, and the notion of being confronted by a prayer that you don’t agree with, maybe even strenuously disagree.
I, personally, would not thank God for abortions. My feelings on this issue are very conflicted and complicated and painful. That’s one reason why usually I don’t write about it. Nobody wants to watch me “on the one hand, on the other hand” myself into a wishy-washy stupor.
I also haven’t walked a mile in everyone’s shoes. What may not sound like a prayer or a blessing or evidence of God’s grace to my ears may be crystal clear to someone else. This is very, personal stuff.
And that’s probably why so many lofty public prayers ring hollow or fall flat. I’ve heard a lot of them over the years covering meetings, political gatherings, chicken dinners and the Legislature. Too many to count.
THE BEST AND WORST
At their best, they are simple, humble, worshipful requests for wisdom and strength and compassion in the face of big issues and decisions.
The worst are the ones that thank God for so obviously seeing things our way — not the so-obviously-wrong other way — and for continued, overwhelming, divine support for our side, and only our side. Got it?
“Thank you, oh Lord, for helping us pass Senate File 10 by such a righteous margin, and for smiting all those wicked amendments as non-germane. And we ask that your glory shine down upon the conference committee. Thanks again for joining our caucus, Lord. Amen.”
I think the “abortion prayer” is one of those unfortunate “God is so clearly on our side” kind of prayers. Which, of course, draws a predictable, “No, God is on our side, you twisted, disgusting …” response. Somehow, I don’t feel like we’re any closer to heaven.
Apparently, under the Spiker School of Public Prayer, we should denounce any prayer that we find disagreeable. Do we call out the offending prayer before they reach Amen? Should we rend a garment or flee? I guess we send out a news release.
And it seems we have religious liberty until Mr. Liberty calls “atrocious.” Good to know.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of prayers that contained stuff I didn’t agree with or like. I was probably even offended a few times. And yet, I stood there, with my head respectfully bowed, unknowingly endorsing the full content of these prayers.
While I was scribbling in the Iowa Senate, I should have loudly objected multiple times. It likely would have been the end of my journalism career. But, for some of you, that would have been a prayer answered.
Instead, I’ve become a professional public prayer listener and sifter. I listen for good stuff, the wheat amid the chafe, the messages I appreciate and can get behind.
“We pray for all pregnant women, May they be surrounded by loving voices,” Midge Slater also prayed that day in the Capitol rotunda. She prayed for the strong women in our lives, for an end to discrimination, and for young girls to have equal access to education, among other laudable requests. If I had been standing there, head bowed, that’s what I would have focused on.
SEEK COMMON GROUND
But in an era where religious faith has become a flashy political accessory, worn like a loud flag tie or a patriotic lapel pin, and also a handy club with which to smack around our enemies, there’s no place for that kind of introspective accommodation of other views.
God forbid we seek out a little common ground to soften the edges of even our deepest disagreements, instead of searching constantly for routes of attack.
And, judging by our politics, he has.
Maybe this is why some politicians show up late. That way, they miss the prayer.
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