The One In Which I Wade Into Political Waters

At the beginning of the 117th Congress, U.S. Rep. (and reverend) Emmanuel Cleaver (D. MO), offered a “prayer” of invocation. The news cycle gave a lot of attention to this prayer, because he ended it by famously saying, “Amen, and a-woman.” You’ve no doubt seen many remarks on this, which is nothing more than empty pandering to the social concern du jour. The English word “amen” is a carryover from the Hebrew which means “certainly,” or “let it be so.” There is no gender tied to the “men” of amen, so uttering this is nothing short of silly. My guess is that this was a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the business of the day in Congress. Later that day, the House proposed rules changes for general neutral terms; “chairman” will become “chair”; terms for familial relationships such as “mother, father, daughter, son, sister and brother” will be replaced with terms such as “parent, child and sibling.”

While I do not wish to engage in any kind of personal attack on Representative Cleaver, I do think it is fair to examine his prayer for what it is. 

For one thing, if you are praying in a public setting, and your are trying to make a point to the people hearing the prayer, and being cute in the prayer, you’ve stopped praying to God, and you’ve started talking to the people. As a pastor, I regularly pray with and for others, expressing the needs of the people before God. But the purpose of prayer is to entreat before our Sovereign God the needs and cares of our hearts, and to seek from Him the provision of our daily bread – not score political points or say something that will make the headlines. Cleaver had to know that his pun would be all that the people would hear, and he chose to include it in his prayer anyway. Every session of Congress opens with prayer, very seldom does it make the news cycle. This was an attention getter – and the prayer got what it sought – attention. 

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began by saying, “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 others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:5-6).

To be perfectly honest, however, I gave up on the “prayer” long before he said, “a-woman.” I couldn’t get past how he addressed the mediator of his prayer. Rep. Cleaver is a ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, so he’s certainly been trained in Biblical studies and theology. How then can he end his prayer, asking all that he did in the “name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and God known by many names by many different faiths”?

I understand the difficulty of praying in an ecumenical, inter-faith, setting. You cannot assume, when praying in a large setting, that all who are praying share your faith. But if you’ve been asked to pray, you haven’t been asked to lay aside your faith for the sake of others. This mealy-mouthed, pan-theistic address at the conclusion of his prayer should never have been uttered from the mouth of a follower of Christ.

I know as a Methodist Cleaver doesn’t subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but the Confession does instruct us in our prayers. “Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue” (WCF XXI 3). In John 14:13-14 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” A Christian prays in the name of Christ, for in Him is our only hope of being heard.

  • When he says “monotheistic god” one must assume Cleaver is speaking of the God of the Bible, but also including the religions of the Jews and Muslims. The point has been made numerous times so I’ll say this succinctly, Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, the eternal 2nd person of the Trinity, who took on flesh and died for our trespasses, and was raised on the 3rd day for our justification. If you deny the Son, you deny the Father as well (1 John 2:23).
  • “Brahma” is the Hindu god of creation, their chief among a pantheon of gods.
  • And the “god known by many names by many different faiths…” is a catch-all for any that he couldn’t name.

This bothers me more than some silly “a-woman” phrase at the end of this pious posturing before the people.  Essentially, Cleaver, an ordained minister of the sacraments of Jesus Christ, standing in the great tradition of John and Charles Wesley, offers a prayer for the Congress to any god who will listen, while careful not to mention the only God who hears. Three days after the prayer, thousands stormed Capital Hill and several broke into the chambers and office of Congress, disrupting the democratic process of certifying the presidential election. These thugs, criminals, and hooligans were acting like godless hordes, and they should be held responsible. But when those who are called to pray for the people cannot shine a clear light for the people to see, how can the people help but stumble in the darkness.

Lord have mercy. Let us pray.

SDG

Of the Civil Magistrate

It’s the Wednesday following the Presidential Election of 2020, and we are a long way off from knowing who the winner of the election will be. I’ve had several conversations with people who wondered what would happen if there was a tie in the Electoral College, so I directed them back to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. It’s interesting reading, but I hope we don’t have to go through all of that.

As it’s good to get a refresher on the Constitution every now and then, it’s also good to get a refresher on our Confession. Perhaps, in light of the election, it would be good to once again read through what the Westminster Confession teaches us from Scripture about the role of the Civil Government and the Christian’s responsibility. (Next week I’ll return to the study through Jude).

Enjoy!

Chapter XXIIIOf the Civil Magistrate

1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (Rom. 13:1–4, 1 Pet. 2:13–14)

2. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: (Prov. 8:15–16, Rom. 13:1–2, 4) in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; (Ps. 2:10–12, 1 Tim. 2:2, Ps. 82:3–4, 2 Sam. 23:3, 1 Pet. 2:13) so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (Luke 3:14, Rom. 13:4, Matt. 8:9–10, Acts 10:1–2, Rev. 17:14, 16)

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; (2 Chron. 26:18) or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; (Matt. 18:17, Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 12:28–29, Eph. 4:11–12, 1 Cor. 4:1–2, Rom. 10:15, Heb. 5:4) or, in the least, interfere in the matter so faith. (John 18:36, Acts 5:29, Eph. 4:11–12) Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. (Isa. 49:23, Rom. 13:1–6) And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. (Ps. 104:15, Acts 18:14–15) It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. (Rom. 13:4, 1 Tim. 2:2)

4. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, (1 Tim. 2:1–2) to honour their persons, (1 Pet. 2:17) to pay them tribute or other dues, (Rom. 13:6–7) to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’sake. (Rom. 13:5, Tit. 3:1) Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: (1 Pet. 2:13–14, 16) from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, (Rom. 13:1, 1 Kings 2:35, Acts 25:9–11, 2 Pet. 2:1, 10–11, Jude 8–11) much less hath the Pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretence whatsoever. (2 Thess. 2:4, Rev. 13:15–17)

 The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.